What are the best, almost scientific, alternative health food/supplement recommendations?
October 26, 2009 6:38 AM   Subscribe

[Alt-health filter]: what are your top 10, most important, almost scientific (ie. generally accepted) foods and/or supplements that I should focus on to improve my health? Speaking from a general well-being, alternative health-type of point of view?

I don't mean 'vegetables' but very specific stuff like "linseed oil is the very best thing in the world" and "resveratrol kept me alive for 200 years" etc. I'm not an alt-health fanatic but I know there's something there, sometimes, and I'd like to know what you think are the most important, and widely accepted.

"Avoid aspertame" would be a good example. But I can't determine which other stuff is as generally accepted as bad, or good, for you as aspertame. And honestly, I don't think I have time to eat all the things that I'm supposed to be consuming if I was to take everything I read on this seriously ("just 5mg of ... a day..." and "just 10ml of ... in the morning will..." multiplied by 50 just doesn't work).
posted by HopStopDon'tShop to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Why not try asking the people on the CRON (calorie restriction, optimal nutrition) boards? Processing the research on just such questions seems to consume a lot of their time. Even if you're not concerned with cutting caloric intake there is still a lot of good advice regarding nutrition there.

And science is generally agreed that avoiding or limiting processed and smoked meats is A Good Thing.
posted by Cuppatea at 6:42 AM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, bell peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes, flax seed oil, apples, ginger, lentils, tomatoes
posted by raztaj at 6:47 AM on October 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

I tend to be a bit wary of any of these things, but my understanding is that adding omega-3 oils to your diet (as flaxseed oil, fish oil, supplements made from a particular algae, or as actual fish) is pretty universally considered a good thing. A friend of mine works in Alzheimer's research and said everyone she knows there takes daily fish-oil supplements. There are links to some studies on the Wikipedia page.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:49 AM on October 26, 2009

Vitamin D supplements.
posted by jgirl at 6:49 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mediterranean and Okinawan diets are the least hippie-cosmic and the most well regarded, IMO.

damn tasty, too
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:08 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

There's been a trend to calling these the superfoods - foods that, for their number of calories, have unusually dense nutritional value - lots of fiber, high in powerful vitamins, lots of antioxidents, healthy oils, etc. Googling "Superfoods" gets a lot of results, and from that point on, I'd just note the source that's running the article and evaluate their credibility as you normally would. However, I've read bunches of these lists in health and food magazines and online, and they're usually pretty reliable, generally based on wide evidence from current studies that indicate our best understanding of what's good for you.
posted by Miko at 7:11 AM on October 26, 2009

Yogurt! I've just discovered the magical curative abilities of yogurt.
posted by Eicats at 7:15 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Mediterranean and Okinawan diets. These people are the longest-lived and most disease free cultures in the world. Note: they don't take supplements.
posted by whiskeyspider at 7:17 AM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: I think that you are assuming a much better, more detailed understanding of nutrition and human health than people, including scientists and other experts, currently have. For example, you assert that aspartame is "generally accepted" as bad. But experts actually disagree vehemently over whether it's better for people to replace sugar in their diets with artificial sweeteners, and many do believe that low- or no-calorie alternatives can be a part of a healthy diet.

Most experts don't agree on specifics at all. For every nutritionist who says that everyone should be taking resveratrol, you'll find another who says that the quantities of resveratrol shown to slow aging in rats are many times higher than what a human being could reasonably consume, so it's worthless to supplement with it. For every health professional who recommends a vegan diet, there's another who will insist that most people can't get sufficient protein that way.

In other words, the answer to your question really is "vegetables." Everyone with any credibility pretty much agrees that a mostly plant-based diet that contains a variety of foods, lean protein, and unsaturated fats is the optimal diet for the human body. But beyond that, there is virtually no agreement on specific combinations of food or supplements, and most pills and diet plans that have purported to improve on the basic formula turn out to be fads, discarded within a few years in favor of the latest and greatest magic bullet.
posted by decathecting at 7:31 AM on October 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

if you're prone to cold sores (oral herpes blisters), lysine tends to discourage them, while arginine may encourage them. specifically, there's some kind of lysine/arginine ratio thing going on. peanuts and some other nut products are high in arginine, so if you consume a lot of those you may want to seek out lysine-containing foods or take lysine supplements.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:37 AM on October 26, 2009

Seconding Omega-3 and Vitamin D. This is completely anecdotal, but my mom's family is Icelandic, and it seems like everyone there takes a big ol' spoonful of cod liver oil every morning, which is chock full of Omega-3 and vitamins A and D. I hear some people there talk about how it's one of those good-for-everything, cure-all types of things, but it seems like people are generally in better health and get sick less than the average American, though there could be a lot of other reasons for that also. I do feel better after having started on it about a year ago, but I suppose there could be some confirmation bias thrown in there.
(At any rate, it's better than Jagermeister, which was the cure-all of my dad's people.)
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 7:42 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know you said not "vegetables", but how about:

vegetables of color!

You wand high-density nutrition, and deep red, green, orange, and even blue vegetables and fruits are where it's at. According to this article, "It is these brightly colored, nutrient-dense foods that may offer the most protective health benefits against cancer and other diseases, as well as helping people with diabetes control their calorie intake and blood sugar."
posted by amtho at 8:03 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tuna, salmon, spinach, sweet potatoes, whole grains, berries, olive oil, bananas, magnesium for calcium absorption, avoiding highly processed foods.
posted by notashroom at 8:35 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Pharmaceutical-grade omega-3 fish oil (cold water fish).

Garlic "factors" supplements (garlic, allicin, aliin, gamma glutamylcysteines)
posted by Zambrano at 8:51 AM on October 26, 2009

My naturopath said if you had to take just one supplement, take the cod liver oil. Preferably a high quality one. I take this one:

Green Pasture Products: Blue Ice High-Vitamin Fermented Cod Liver Oil, (402) 858-4818, greenpasture.org

I take it every day and yes, I actually do feel better. :) That's my suggestion, Nthing all the others.
posted by Mysticalchick at 9:16 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Omega-3 supplements; eat dark leafy greens daily (spinach, chard, collard green or kale are the ones I can think of off the top of my head); avoid both diet & regular soda; and limit added sugar.

Also, note that wild salmon is much better for you than farmed salmon.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:40 AM on October 26, 2009

Response by poster: @Cuppatea - thanks for the link, this question came about because I'm reading one of the CR books ('The CR Way') and wanted to get an opinion from a wider group. And also because I just get so confused by all the different recommendations.

@decathecting and amtho - I love your answer.

Thanks everyone else too, taking it all in...
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 9:50 AM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: 1. Water - drink more. Cut out caffinated and sugar of the rest.
2. Eggs - protien, transportable, tasty.
3. Fish - Salmon, Tuna and Cod. (Preferably wild)
4. Spinach
5. Sweet Potato
6. Garlic.
7. Seaweed.
8. Turmeric. (Though really this is a cook more with foods that improve with this and use this).
9. Berries - I'm a fan of the blue variety because my in-laws own a blueberry farm.
10. Oil. LIGHT olive oil and safflower for cooking, 100% EVOO for Finishing (EVOO the A&D in it is heat sensitive and the good stuff in it is heat sensitive), Cook with clear oils, finish with things that start to look like motor oil.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:50 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

posted by hazyjane at 10:29 AM on October 26, 2009

I would add that "Speaking from a general well-being, alternative health-type of point of view?" is basically asking for anecdata or prejudice. decathecting has it right.
posted by lalochezia at 11:02 AM on October 26, 2009

posted by jgirl at 11:34 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hurf Durf. You don't need science to tell you what's nutritionally good for you. As a general rule, if it grows in nature and isn't poisonous, it's probably good for you. I know that the appeal to nature is a complete fallacy, but in this one case I think it has some value. You are an animal. If you did not live in a 'developed' (ahem ahem) world and instead lived in a sort of state of nature, what would you eat? Well, probably almost completely plants, as they are readily available and take little energy to acquire. Especially plants that sort of taste good. Dark, leafy green things like kale and spinach and seaweed. Nuts and berries. various herbs and spices. Eggs you pluck from a nearby nest. All of these things are readily available to you. Things which are not readily available to you include: mass quantities of meat, corn syrup, preservatives, sugar, tall whiskey sours, crisco...you get the idea. Most importantly, eat a VARIETY of things that grow. Spinach, contrary to popular belief, is not the only leafy green vegetable. Go get some chard or something.

I'm not saying that empirical proof that this is true is not worthy of pursuit, but really, this is pretty common sense. If you eat mostly plants and no man-made or processed foods, your body will be happy, and you will know what you are supposed to eat. Our livers evolved in conjunction with our diet, thus they function best when processing the foods they evolved to process, i.e. not methyl anthranilate.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:38 AM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: I know you already marked the best answers but aside from fish oil which are generally regarded as pure awesomeness for your body there wasn't too much mention of nuts.

I heard an NPR piece awhile back (tried to find the link) about a guy that studies longevity across the world. He is still in the midst of the study, but has visited places in which people lived longer than average and interviewed them and studied the way they eat and live. One of the key factors that has come out of his research so far is that almost all of the people he interviewed that live in these areas ate nuts almost every day.

Another factor was physical activity. But you can't eat that....yet.
posted by WickedPissah at 12:50 PM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: Food
1. Pasture raised animals (cows, bison, lamb, chickens) and their products (eggs, cheese, cream, butter)
2. Animal organs - very very high in vitamins and minerals
3. Cook with animal fats (Ancel Keys was wrong, saturated fat is good for you)
4. Traditionally used herbs and spices (tumeric, garlic, seaweed, sea salt, pepper, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage etc)

1. Fish oil (too many benefits to list, heart disease, mental disorders, diabetes etc. Read any of the literature by William EM Lands and Joseph Hibbeln)
2. Vitamin D for reduction in mortality from heart disease and cancer, and flu & upper respiratory infection (Reinhold Vieth is the premier researcher here)
3. Vitamin K-2 (not k1, which is present in plants), the Rotterdam cohort and the Prospect cohort correlate dietary menaquinone (vitamin k-2) intake with a significant reduction in arterial calcification and heart disease.

1. Seed based oils (olive is probably ok, good w-3/w-6 balance, others are heavily w-6 dominant)
2. Cereal grains (gluten)
3. Nuts, again heavily w-6 dominant except walnuts and coconuts
posted by zentrification at 1:34 PM on October 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

Would you like any do-not-eat-this advice? ... I had really good luck with drastically reducing my intake of wheat, milk, sugar, coffee, and red wine.

Seconding the luke parker fiasco's lýsi recommendation.

I try try to eat lost of different vegetables to kind of familiarize my body with them. I start getting cravings for different vegetables at different times and periods – I think the body is requesting vitamins and stuff for itself. (It must also not be confused by having hamburgers thrown at the calibration unit.)
posted by krilli at 5:53 PM on October 26, 2009

I'm sort of curious why some of these answers are marked 'best,' especially since most contain no citations - just lists. If you are unsure about which dietary recommendations to follow, what is it that gives you more confidence in these as 'best answers'?
posted by Miko at 5:55 PM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: The site is weightlifter targeted but this is a great article - Power foods:
1)Broccoli - In 1992, a study conduced at Johns Hopkins found that broccoli consumption prevented the development of tumors by 60% and it reduced the size of tumors that did develop by 75%. Broccoli contains more polyphenols than any other common vegetable. Other super powers possessed by broccoli include an ability to boost the immune system, build bones, fight birth defects, and to ward of degenerative eye diseases.
2)Wild Salmon - reduces the risk of coronary artery disease; controls hypertension; controls inflammation; prevents cancer; prevents degenerative eye diseases, and it may well boost your metabolism, making it easier for you to lose fat.
3)Grass-Fed Beef - about as good a food as wild salmon as far as fatty acid profile is concerned
4)Walnuts - People who eat walnuts have fewer heart attacks. One study actually found an inverse relationship between walnut consumption and all deaths. I don't know how a walnut could keep you from being hit by a runaway streetcar, but I do believe it's one healthful little nut. Walnuts are one of the few rich sources of plant-derived Omega-3 fatty acids (alpha linolenic acid), thus complimenting the animal-derived Omega-3 fatty acids we get from another Power Food, salmon. They're also high in plant sterols, which reduce cholesterol. Combine that with their arginine-powered ability to keep the insides of blood vessels smooth and you can understand their effect on heart health. In addition to all that, they're the nut with the highest anti-oxidant activity, and they contain rich amounts of magnesium and copper, two minerals that are typically deficient in the American diet.
5)Olive Oil - A health study in 2005 compared the effects of different types of olive oil. The first type, "extra virgin" contains the highest amount of polyphenols, while the other olive oil was a lesser blend containing one-fifth the polyphenols in the first type. Those using the extra virgin olive oil on their bread exhibited a marked increase in arterial wall elasticity, while those that ate the lesser stuff exhibited no change.
6)Blueberries - This humble little berry contains a greater number of antioxidants than any other known fruit or vegetable. Just one serving contains more antioxidants as five servings of carrots, apples, broccoli, or squash. Just a couple of years ago, the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate one cup per day had a perpetual increase in the amount of antioxidants in their blood. Maintaining this physiologic state, they guessed, probably plays a big role in the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and degenerative eye diseases. There's also a study that's probably of particular interest to readers of this site: people who ate large amounts of blueberries every day performed 5 to 6 percent better on tests of motor skills than a control group.
7)Flaxseeds - In addition to being a rich source of plant-derived Omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseeds also contain fiber, protein, and magnesium. They also contain lignins, which are phytoestrogens.
8)Pumpkin - What makes pumpkin so cool is its synergistic blend of phytonutrients. In fact, pumpkin contains the richest supply of carotenoids known to man. These carotenoids are suspected to modulate immune responses, enhance cell-to-cell communication, and protect against various cancers. One carotene in particular — alpha carotene — is even suspected by some to slow aging.
9)Spinach - Consider that spinach contains carotenoids like zeaxanthin and beta-carotene, along with antioxidants like CoQ10 and glutathione, and the insulin modulator alpha lipoic acid. Not only that, but spinach is fairly rich in plant-derived Omega-3 fatty acids, too. All of this equates to a vegetable that lowers homocysteine levels, risk of degenerative eye disease, and many types of cancer. In fact, there are epidemiological studies that show that the more spinach eaten, the lower the risk of almost everytype of cancer.
10)Tomatoes (cooked) - Consider the 1995 study that showed men who ate ten or more servings a week of tomatoes reduced their risk of prostate cancer by 35% and their risk of aggressive prostate cancer by 50%. And while quite possibly being as potent an anti-oxidant as beta-carotene in general, lycopene is also thought to raise the skin's natural SPF (sun protection factor).
11)Turkey Breast - Lean meat. Want to know how lean turkey is? Three ounces of flank steak — the leanest beef available — has 4.5 grams of saturated fat. An identical amount of turkey has only 0.2 grams of saturated fat.
12)Yogurt - Yogurt that contains live active cultures of bacteria encourages the growth of "good" bacteria and hampers the growth of the "bad". Once you do that, you might help your body fight cancer, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowl syndrome, ulcers, and diarrhea.
13)Shiitake Mushrooms - Mushrooms contain zinc, essential amino acids, and a host of vitamins, but I'm not really interested in all that. The reason I've labeled Shiitake mushrooms as a power food is because they appear to possess some pretty interesting anti-viral properties, including some much-desired anti-cancer powers.
And 8 More Power Foods:
14)Cabbage / Kimchi / Kale
15)Organic Coconut Oil
17)Omega-3 Enriched Eggs
19)Greek Yogurt

The cites are located at yourhandsarentbrokelookemupsville. Just kidding. They cite their sources at the end of the articles.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:01 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

The food recommendations were pretty cool already, I would add two more "supplements" that are nutrition related:

- Sunshine. Research shows that the determining factor for bone density is the amount of time a person spends outdoors - it's hard to get adequate vitamin D intakes just from food, and vitamin D is critical for calcium absorption, among many other things. You can find some more information on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_D

- Fresh air. Perhaps consider trying the various breathing exercises from yoga, or taking a walk once a week in some green, car-less area. It can do wonders for your mood.

It's good for a person to get a good book about nutrition, perhaps one of the text-books nutrition students use for "basics of nutrition" subject (that's how it's called in my country). A basic understanding of the role various micro- and macro- nutrients play in the human body and in which foods they can be found can be put to great use in everyday life. Additionally, they are various more general and well-established rules about combining foods and balancing diet based on food colors (especially when it comes to vegetables), their consistency, taste (sweet/sour/bitter) etc. That gives a much better overall understanding of nutrition then just getting excited about particular "wonder foods", even through those foods can really enrich one's diet in critical nutrients. It's just that "too much of a good thing can be a bad thing".
posted by jarekr at 2:17 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again all.

@miko - you're right to be curious, the reason I've marked them as best is so that I can spot the answers I'm interested in reading again when I scan this page again in the future. It's up to me to do the additional research etc to find out if I want to go that route. And in fairness to the posters, I never asked for citations, I totally asked for people's opinions, although I was hoping for the less controversial foods etc (which is, I think, what I got).
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 7:37 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

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