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Posts Tagged ‘diet’

How a persuasive scientist with poor evidence ruined our diets

Posted by Richard on May 6, 2014

ICYMI: Put away that box of breakfast cereal and have some ham and eggs. That’s the take-away from a fascinating essay by Nina Teicholz in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal:

“Saturated fat does not cause heart disease”—or so concluded a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. How could this be? The very cornerstone of dietary advice for generations has been that the saturated fats in butter, cheese and red meat should be avoided because they clog our arteries. For many diet-conscious Americans, it is simply second nature to opt for chicken over sirloin, canola oil over butter.

The new study’s conclusion shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with modern nutritional science, however. The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.

The persuasive scientist who derailed nutrition policy was Ancel Benjamin Keys, and it’s an interesting story. The unintended consequences of the adoption of Dr. Keys’ diet recommendations, chiefly the increased consumption of carbohydrates and vegetable oils, have not been good. For one thing, eating less fat and more carbs, ironically, makes us fatter:

One consequence is that in cutting back on fats, we are now eating a lot more carbohydrates—at least 25% more since the early 1970s. Consumption of saturated fat, meanwhile, has dropped by 11%, according to the best available government data. …

The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin—a hormone that is fantastically efficient at storing fat. Meanwhile, fructose, the main sugar in fruit, causes the liver to generate triglycerides and other lipids in the blood that are altogether bad news. Excessive carbohydrates lead not only to obesity but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very likely, heart disease.

Read the whole thing. You may want to change your breakfast routine.

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Are vegetarians less healthy?

Posted by Richard on April 23, 2014

It’s only one study, and any single study such as this should be taken with a grain of salt. But an Austrian matched sample study of people with different dietary habits contradicts the conventional wisdom that vegetarians are healthier:

… Subjects were matched according to their age, sex, and socioeconomic status leaving 1320 people – 330 vegetarians, 330 that ate meat but still a lot of fruits and vegetables, 300 normal eaters but that ate less meat, and 330 on a more carnivorous diet. 

After controlling for variables, they found that vegetarians did have lower BMI and alcohol consumption but had poorer overall health. Vegetarians had higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders, a higher need for health care, and poorer quality of life. 

As a result, vegetarians take more medications than non-vegetarians.

I’m guessing that the vegetarians’ problem is insufficient alcohol consumption.

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Successful losers

Posted by Richard on January 23, 2007

This time of year, many of us are trying to lose a few pounds. It’s become a cliché that losing weight is relatively easy, but keeping it off is hard. So, what are the secrets of the really successful losers — the people who’ve lost a lot and avoided gaining back the weight they’ve lost? The National Weight Control Registry is a good place to find out.  It’s tracking over 5,000 people who’ve lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year, making it "the largest prospective investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance."

James O. Hill, NWCR’s co-founder and director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, described the typical person in the registry as a middle-aged white woman who’s lost an average of 70 pounds and kept it off an average of seven years. Those numbers are a pretty good indication that the registry members are doing something right.

So what made the registry members successful? According to Hill, these five behaviors (emphasis added):

1. They eat breakfast. Unlike fat people, who typically skip breakfast but do have lunch and then eat virtually non-stop from about 4 p.m. until they go to bed,"these people almost never skip breakfast," Hill reports. "We think maybe that calories ingested in the morning have a greater satiating effect than calories eaten later in the day."

2. They monitor their weight. "These people use scales a lot," Hill says. "Almost all of them use a scale weekly, and some use it daily." Such regular checks enable them to catch weight regain early on, he says, so they can take action to get back on track as soon as they see their target number go up more than two or three pounds.

3. They get a lot of exercise. "Walking is huge," Hill reports. A survey of participants in the registry found that on average, they get 60 minutes of physical activity per day, with 28 percent mostly walking,49 percent combining walking with cycling, aerobics or lifestyle changes such as parking farther away, and 14 percent mainly doing activities other than walking. Meanwhile, 9 percent "do nothing" — i.e. they control their weight through diet alone.

4. They watch what they eat. Most successful losers report consuming 1300 to 1400 calories per day over the long term, with only about 25 percent of the total derived from fat, compared to 30 percent or more in the typical American diet. In addition, their eating habits are consistent from day to day — they don’t take "holidays" when anything goes.

5. They stay away from the tube. The formerly fat "watch much less TV than the national average" — about 10 hours a week, or less than half of the typical 28 hours or so. Presumably, they’re less likely to be snacking and more likely to be physically active during the non-watching hours.

Hmm. I guess I’m doing fine on #1 and #2, need to work harder on #3 (especially in the winter), and need to be more consistent about #4.

But, oh boy, do I fail badly on #5! Sigh. Anybody want to buy a nice Samsung 46" HDTV?

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World Heart Day

Posted by Richard on September 25, 2006

Today was World Heart Day, and I missed all the festivities. It’s intended to promote awareness of heart disease and its prevention. The World Heart Federation sponsors the annual world-wide event:

World Heart Day is run by the World Heart Federation’s member organizations in more than 100 countries. Activities on the day include health checks, walks, runs, jump rope, fitness sessions, public talks, stage shows, scientific forums, exhibitions, concerts and sports tournaments. Last year in Singapore for example, a World Heart Day heart fair attracted over 60,000 participants who took part in health screenings, aerobics classes, health quizzes, exhibits, school performances, nutritional counselling and food sampling. Similar events will be taking place this year asking participants: "How Young is Your Heart?"

The "How Young Is Your Heart?" theme encouraged people to think about how their lifestyle choices affect the effective "age" of their heart and their heart health. According to the World Health Federation, the three major risk factors — physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and tobacco use — account for 80% of heart disease and stroke.

Personally, I’m doing OK on two out of three. I’m still an ex-smoker (closing in on two years), and I’ve been walking pretty regularly. Diet — well, that could be better. But I take about 3 dozen nutritional supplements a day to counteract some of the harm from my diet — and from 40 years of smoking.

In honor of World Heart Day, today I ran a 10k, ate an arugula salad with fat-free dressing for dinner, and then worked out on the rowing machine.

Just kidding!

Actually, I cleaned out the garage, ate a pizza, and hit the recliner to watch the Broncos spank the Patriots. Again! We’ve got your number, Brady!

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