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8 International Health Paradoxes that Got Me Thinking...

A health paradox occurs when the facts on the ground contradict what most nutritionists and doctors would expect. The most famous health paradox is the French paradox, which you may know as the fact that the French consume endless amounts of butter and carbohydrates, yet miraculously remain thin. Here are some of the most notable and interesting food paradoxes that will get you thinking about the way you eat (and possibly where you live)!

1. Israeli Paradox
health paradoxes
The Israeli paradox is the fact that Israelis have a very high rate of heart disease and diabetes despite the fact that they have a diet that is generally low in 'bad' fats (saturated fats) and high in 'good' fats (polyunsaturated fats). In fact, many believe that the polyunsaturated fats in vegetable seed oils are supposed to lower the risk of heart disease.

New research has revealed the reason behind the Israeli paradox. Researchers suggest that Israelis have high rates of heart disease because their diets are rich in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, present in soybean, safflower and corn oils. Thus, it appears that omega-6 fatty acids are actually very harmful and can have serious long-term effects that many nutritionists were unaware of.

Lesson learned:
Instead of using soy and corn oils, try using olive oil and canola oil that are generally low in omega-6s.

2. Swiss-Alpine Paradox
health paradoxes
What could the Swiss ever do wrong? Although cheese is generally considered to be a fatty and unhealthy food that should be avoided, cheese from Switzerland is actually good for you! This is because the cheese in Switzerland is made from the milk of cows that graze on alpine pastures. These pastures have a more favorable acid profile or content than other cheese types, and contains good omega-3 fatty acids like alpha linolenic acids. Swiss cheeses also have relatively low concentrations of saturated fats compared to other cheese.

Lesson learned: Next time you are craving a cheesy snack, pick up some genuine Swiss cheese (from alpine cows) for a healthier choice.

3. Spanish Paradox
health paradoxes
Research conducted in Spain found that since 1976, there has been a dramatic decrease in cardiovascular disease deaths in both men and women. However, during the same period it was found that the national intake of meat, dairy products, fish and fruit increased in Spain, while the intake of olive oil, sugar and carbohydrates decreased. What could explain this strange paradox that goes against so many commonly accepted health norms?

The study, published in 1995, found that while the rate of plauque build-up, or material that builds up in the arteries and around the heart known to cause heart disease, increased, the rate of heart disease decreased. This led the researchers to suggest that while the Spanish diet is high in cholesterol, it is full of good cholesterol from meat and full-cream products, and less from carbohydrates and other 'heavier' foods.

Lesson learned: Although plaque in the arteries is not an ideal situation, it is of course better than full blown heart disease. Therefore, if you want to prevent or ease the effects of heart disease, try a diet that is higher in full proteins like meat, fish and cream and drop the carbohydrates like bread, rice and potatoes.

For more great health tips -- click here!>>

4. Mexican Paradox
health paradoxes
Despite the social disadvantages like poverty and limited opportunities, Mexican American women deliver significantly fewer low birth weight babies and lose fewer babies than most other ethnic groups. What are Mexican women doing right?

Researchers believe that this statistic can be explained by the strong and complex community networks that many Mexican Americans participate in. They have strong informal systems of prenatal care composed of family, friends, community members, extended family ties and strong religious beliefs. Also, in Mexican society, most pregnant women are put up on a pedestal, hardly use cigarettes or alcohol and eat diet rich in proteins and vitamins.

However, in a different study it was found that the longer Latinos live in the United States, their birth advantage disappears.

Lesson learned: Pregnant women should surround themselves with people who care about them and the health of the baby as much as possible. Also, they should not use or be around the use of tabacco and alcoholic products, and of course, they should watch their diet. There may be a genetic factor to this paradox, but none of the above-mentioned will harm you if you try!

5. Hispanic Paradox
health paradoxes
Interestingly, those of Hispanic origin in the United States tend to have significantly better health and a lower all-cause mortality rate than the average population. This is despite the fact that many Hispanic Americans face financial difficulties and are in many cases denied access to a good education and health care plan. What is the Lation population doing right?

Some doctors and scientists believe that, similar to what was mentioned above, a strong and large family network, ethnic identity, religiosity and other effects are what cause the average Hispanic in America to live a longer life. Also, studies have shown that in general Hispanic individuals tend to drink less alcohol and smoke less tabacco. However, as they are present longer in the United States, these positive habits tend to dwindle.

Lesson learned: Family, religion and identity could be more important to your health than you may think. By not caring for these seemingly menial elements of your life, you could be negatively affecting your health.

6. Japanese Paradox
health paradoxes
It was recently found that the Japanese have the lowest incidence of heart attacks in the world, but what makes this fact a conundrum is that the Japanese have similar blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes rates as men in the US, and they are more likely to smoke. So why are they more heart healthy?

A new study suggests that the answer may be in the sea. The high intake of fish in the Japanese diet may explain why there are lower levels of atherosclerosis, or artery build up, and subsequent coronary heart disease. Since World War II, the Japanese diet has become increasly westernized, but fish consumption still remains the highest in the world. The average omega-3 intake in Japan is one gram a day, about eight times higher than that of the average American.

Lesson learned: Eat more fish for a healthy heart!

7. East African Masai Paradox
health paradoxes
The Masai tribes in the east African country of Kenya have a diet rich in full fat milk, cream, beef and blood from their cattle in the dry seaons. Their average daily caloric intake is estimated at about 3,000 kcal, with over 60 percent of those calories derived from fat. That is nearly 1,000 more calories than the average grown indiviual is supposed to consume, according to nutritionists. In addition, their daily cholesterol intake was rated betwene 600 to 2,000 mg per person, which is extremely high.

However, when Western doctors first examined the Masai people, they remarkably found that their blood cholesterol levels were extremely low, and autopsies on deceased Masai found almost no evidence of arterial plaque. What could explain their good health?

Most likely the Masai are so healthy despite their rich diet for similar reasons to the Spanish. They hardly eat processed foods (if at all) and certainly they eat much less carbohydrates than the average western individual. Indeed, much of the daily caloric intake of individuals living in western countries is made up of filler carbohydrates that really have little positive effect on the body.

Lesson learned: Watch your carbohydrates and try to steer clear of them if you are concerned about your cholesterol levels.

8. Italian Paradox
health paradoxes
Anyone who has ever been to Italy knows that they love their tabacoo. However, although Italians are a population of heavy smokers, they have a very low incidence of cardiovascular disease.

This may point to the fact that cigarette smoking is unlikely to have a directly toxic effect on the circulatory system and must only be an indirect cause of coronary heart disease.

Lesson learned: This by no means means that you should go pick up a pack of cigarettes. If you aren't a smoker - stay that way. If you are a smoker - look for ways to stop because cigarettes may not worsen the health of your heart, but they do negatively affect so many other aspects of your health.

Share these health paradoxes with your friends and set the story straight!

Images (top to bottom): KEKO64/ Grant Cochrane/ nixxphotography/ David Castillo Dominici/ David Castillo Dominici/ artur84/ africa/ imagerymajestic @ freedigitalphotos.net

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