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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Media Rejects Atkins Editorial

I came across this on Jimmy Moore's site and then again on Regina Wilshire's site. It appears that the media outlets are determining what gets reported as healthful nutrition advice. Time, Newsweek, JAMA, and others rejected this response to Dr. Dean Ornish's complaints about the A to Z Study that showed his diet to be less effective than the Atkins Diet.

Here it is in its entirety from Dr. Vernon's blog:

As always, Dean Ornish and the media put aside science in favor of headlines and self-interest. The following editorial was rejected by NEWSWEEK, TIME, the Journal of the American Medical Association and others. However, Ornish was allowed exclusivity on the playing field. And who pays the price yet again? The American consumer and the millions suffering from obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Dear reader: write to your local media, the national media, phone, email and demand that Dr. Vernon and other experts who follow the trail of science be given a voice.

More Science and Less Zealotry, Please.

The controversy over which diet is best for all has again made headlines with the Dr_atkins_sitting publication of the Stanford University study in the Journal of the America Medical Association March 7, 2007. Since the results are favorable to the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet, the usual criticism can be expected to follow.

Predictably, Dean Ornish has launched a tirade in which he manipulates the study findings to find fault with the low-carb approach and to deflect criticism away from his ultra low-fat diet which did not perform well in the study. Unfortunately, this is an argument based on dogma and not on science. The science speaks for itself.

As scientists and clinicians, we believe that no one dietary approach is going to be ideal for everyone. There is no doubt that, for some, an ultra-low-fat approach may be appropriate. Unlike Dr. Ornish, we recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the enormously complex problem of obesity and related conditions. Unfortunately, other authoritative sources like the US dietary guidelines also recommend a single lowered fat high-carbohydrate diet approach and have been doing so over the decades that this epidemic has grown.

Gratuitous attacks on the Atkins diet that imply it involves abandonment of wholesome vegetables and fruit for “bacon and brie” are simply wrong. Even in the most restrictive phase it meets the recommended daily guidelines for vegetables and fruits. As one advances through the phases, low-glycemic fruits, more vegetables, legumes and even whole grains are introduced based on an individual’s metabolic tolerance for these foods. One survey found that people who follow the Atkins plan over the long term eat more vegetables than they did before. Another study found that rather than increase the intake of fat and protein to compensate when carbohydrates were reduced, people simply ate less.

The unfortunate reality of today is that too many Americans are eating potato chips and fries and drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. We support the idea that wholesome foods such as meat, fish, cheese and eggs along with vegetables and low glycemic fruits constitute a healthier diet than chips and fries and sodas.

While this study examined four popular dietary approaches, what is clear is that whatever approach one takes to healthy eating, success will depend on how well you can stick to it. In this case, and in many earlier studies, it is clear that the Atkins diet is the one most people can maintain. On the other hand, the extremely low-fat diet advocated by Dr. Ornish is very difficult to follow. In this study, the subjects who were supposed to reduce their fat intake to his recommended intake of 10% could not reach that target.

Another important aspect of this and earlier studies is the beneficial effect that reducing carbohydrates has on metabolic markers. In his criticism, Dr. Ornish states that the LDL-cholesterol level fell in response to his diet, but does not mention that none of the differences in LDL-C in this study were statistically significant. This is therefore not a scientifically valid criticism. On the other hand, it is widely recognized that elevating the HDL-C, the good cholesterol, is an important factor in reducing cardiovascular risk. In this study there was a highly significant 10% rise in HDL-C in the Atkins group but no such change among those who followed the very high-carbohydrate Ornish diet.

In the same vein, the Atkins group demonstrated a significant (both statistically and clinically) greater reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure than the other three diets. A difference in mean arterial pressure of 5 mm Hg is about the response we would expect to see with a first-line pharmaceutical in the clinical setting. Any objective observer would acknowledge this as a major beneficial effect of the Atkins diet.

Dr. Ornish suggests that the positive findings of research such as this that supports the Atkins diet will cause problems, and that “many people may go on a diet that harms them based on inaccurate information.” This is a wildly irresponsible statement, given the consistency with which a reduction in important metabolic and cardiovascular risks are achieved by lowering carbohydrate consumption. It is simply preposterous to suggest that an approach that leads to significant risk factor reduction is unhealthy.

The seriousness of the accelerating epidemic compels us to think outside the box to The_atkins_lifestyle_food_guide_pyr find new solutions where the status quo has failed. The only approach that will be successful is one that people can actually follow. This study adds to the mounting evidence that the Atkins diet is a healthy choice which should be supported as a viable way to lose weight and improve metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors.

The Real Atkins Lifestyle

Before there was research on the Atkins diet it was commonly criticized in the belief that it would elevate cholesterol, ruin one’s kidneys and bones and cause heart disease. None of this has been borne out by the research.

What is clear from this JAMA study, and others like it, is that cardiovascular risk factors actually improve when controlling carbs. The scientific studies of this approach have shown numerous times that a pattern of rising HDL-C and falling triglycerides is the hallmark of carb restriction and that this benefit occurs even in the absence of weight loss.

Research also shows that rising HDL-C (good cholesterol) and falling triglycerides is correlated with larger LDL-C particles which are less likely to cause heart disease. Even the much touted statin drugs do not deliver this kind of improvement in LDL-C particle size. On the other hand, the research shows that eating a high-carb diet and cutting fat intake results in small dense LDL-C particles that are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Importance of Fat

There are other problems associated with extremely low fat diets, as well. Cutting fat intake can lead to deficiencies in fat soluble vitamins, depletion of essential fats such as EPA and DHA, and decreases in the absorption of nutrients. Studies also show that people with cholesterol levels that are too low become prone to depression, suicide and cancer and have higher overall death rates than those who have higher cholesterol levels.

When all is said and done, it behooves us to remember that the diet debate is not a horse race where there is only one winner. We know there is a great variability in metabolic and genetic factors that will determine what dietary approach is best for each individual person. Although, in this and many other studies the Atkins diet worked better for more people, it is also evident that other dietary approaches will work for some people as well. The most important thing we have learned from dietary research is that people need to find the approach that will deliver healthy outcomes for them individually. And, just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of a diet's effectiveness is whether it can sustain those benefits over the long haul. Hopefully, the weight of the evidence will now allow the Atkins diet to be recognized and supported as a legitimate option for people who want to improve their health through better nutrition.

On a final note, Dr. Ornish’s repugnant attempt to undermine Dr. Atkins’ credibility by perpetuating the myth that he had heart disease is unconscionable. It is unbecoming of any honorable person to make ad hominem attacks on those who are departed. Enough is enough. Dr. Atkins died of a head injury. He is no longer with us, but the line of scientific inquiry that he started continues to vindicate his dietary approach. And no amount of unfounded criticism will alter the fact that this study, and the 60 others before it, clearly demonstrate that what Dr. Atkins had been telling us all along was right.

* Jacqueline A. Eberstein, R.N. Co-author, Atkins Diabetes Revolution, President, Controlled Carbohydrate Nutrition
* Stephen D. Phinney, M.D. Ph.D Emeritus Professor, Department of Medicine, UC Davis, Elk Grove, Cal
* Mary C. Vernon, M.D., CMD, Co-author, Atkins Diabetes Revolution, President, American Society of Bariatric Physicians
* Eric C. Westman, M.D. M.H.S, Associate Professor of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center
* Jay Wortman, M.D, Department of Health Care & Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia

Friday, March 23, 2007

Statins for Kids?!?

Heart Association Recommends Statins for Kids with High Cholesterol

From the AHA comes this little gem:

When diet and exercise fail to lower cholesterol in children with high-risk lipid abnormalities, statins should be first-line drug therapy, declared the American Heart Association in a new scientific statement.

Yes, statins. For kids. I guess the pharmaceutical companies have turned enough adults into pill-popping zombies for life and are now turning their attention to kids over the age of 10. That's one way to make sure you have a customer for life. Why go for 65 year old folks with only 10-20 years to live when you can get a 12 year old with 60 years to live?

Note that this is treatment for high cholesterol, which hasn't been proven to be the dangerous element in heart disease. What would I recommend to ensure today's kids stay happy, healthy, and heart disease-free? Exercise, something that kids used to enjoy, and a diet based on food, rather than on food products: meat; vegetables; nuts; olive, coconut, and palm oils; fruits; sweet potatoes; and squashes. Exercise doesn't have to be weight lifting at a gym; just send them outside to shoot hoops or play tag or kick a rock like kids do. Don't let them eat bags of chips and drink soft drinks all day long just so they'll like you. Parents are responsible for doing what is in their children's best interests, not for being their children's friends. And believe me, as a child of a mother that ensured her children ate plenty of good stuff and only enough bad stuff to keep us normal, they will appreciate it one day. No child is going to grow up and say "Boy, I wish mom had let me drink more Cokes and eat a few more Swiss Cake Rolls."

And let's not forget the real killer: high blood sugar. So we have overweight kids feeding on sugar all day and we're treating them for cholesterol. Hah! It's a sad day in America when our doctors focus on drugs to treat kids rather than on letting kids maintain their health in the normal ways that kids do. I'm surprised they didn't advise a "healthful" low-fat diet too.

Monday, March 19, 2007

When All Else Fails, Blame Genetics

I was involved in a conversation this past weekend that turned to genetics and how overweight people are genetically inclined for such because, in this case, they are missing the brain's ability to respond to leptin. First, I pointed out that the person misunderstood last week's report on leptin. It's not that the obese genetically lack sensitivity to leptin. It's that they have become leptin resistant. But my real beef was the overall theme of the discussion: genetics. Genetics is all through the news. Science's discovery of the workings of genetics and DNA has been both positive and a negative. Genetics has helped us to understand our evolutionary lineage and how certain diseases develop. It has also become the crutch du jour of most everyone that has any problem. Pick which of the following you're heard (or used) a variation of:
- "It's just not in my genes to be thin."
- "My parents were big."
- "(x disease) runs in my family."
- The list goes on ad nauseam

The problem with such thinking is that it removes the actor from any responsibility and places the blame solely on the actor's genes, or more appropriately on their parents, their parent's parents, and their parent's parent's parents. It is the latest in dodging personal responsibility to blame someone or something else - in this case DNA, which is invisible (to the naked eye at least). How can you avoid your genetic fate if you can't even SEE your genes? And if you can't avoid your fate because "it's in your genes," what point is there in trying? Your parents were overweight and their parents were overweight. You might as well eat bon-bons with an ice cream chaser all day because you're destined to be overweight, right? WRONG!

I can't relay to you how much it grates me to hear someone invoke genetics for their situation. I'm a huge proponent of personal responsibility and genes are nearly always used as a cop out. Sure, there are certain things that you cannot overcome genetically. I blame my genes for my inability to get a tan. That is something that will never change. In fact, no matter how hard I try, I will never have the olive skin of an Italian nor the dark skin of someone of African descent. I will also not have blond hair without hair dye and I'm unlikely to ever reach 6' tall. Oh, and my eyes will always be blue. However, my weight will always be my responsibility. I hear people say "Diabetes runs in my family." Now, I have no doubt that certain people are predisposed to certain illnesses. Everyone doesn't process food as efficiently as others. Some people have a slow metabolism and have to be judicious with their eating to avoid becoming overweight. Some people may be genetically inclined to become insulin resistant, IF they abuse their body with processed, sugary foods. Note the caveat there: "IF they abuse their body with processed, sugary foods." You don't become overweight and diabetic without misusing food (discounting the very small percentage of people with glandular disorders).

See, genetics aren't a roadmap to your life. They are more like the direction posts that we see in movies and cartoons. You're traveling down your life's Route 1 and come upon a sign post that says "Donuts and obesity, 3 miles" pointing to the right and one that says "Healthful living, 10 miles" to the left. You determine which road you take, your genetics determine what happens to your body at that point. So you see that if you choose healthful living, you can drastically reduce the negative effects of your genes. If you eat meat, vegetables, nuts, healthful oils (like olive, coconut, and palm), fruit, sweet potatoes, and squashes, you are probably not going to become overweight and diabetic, regardless of your genetics. Of course, some genetic diseases are a roadmap to your life. Down Syndrome, neurological disorders, other birth defects, Lou Gherig's disease, etc are genetic disorders that no amount of healthful living is going to fix. But you are not destined to be obese. You are not destined to be diabetic. You determine your destiny by the foods that you consume and a sedentary lifestyle.

This brings me to another minor quibble that I am guilty of. I didn't go back through my old posts to see how many times I've said this, but I know I have made the error that I am about to point out. One does not "have" Type II Diabetes. Rather, one "is" diabetic. "Having" a medical issue connotes that you caught it somewhere. You "have" a cold or you "have" the flu. You "are" diabetic, meaning you can become "not diabetic". To "have" an illness means you had little to do with getting it, other than perhaps not washing your hands properly. To "be" something says "I am responsible for this." If you "are" a doctor, you didn't just accidentally become a doctor. If you "are" a banker, you probably did something to become a banker; it wasn't an accident. When you "have" diabetes, you remove your responsibility for the disease, whereas when you "are" diabetic, you acknowledge your responsibility in becoming such.

Take responsibility for your life, as so many others have, and stop blaming your genes. When you blame your genes, you are effectively shifting all responsibility to your ancestors. Many, many people have taken responsibility for their health and began eating proper foods to lose the weight and essentially stop being diabetic. All it takes is personal responsibility and fortitude.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Americans Skimping on Fruits, Veggies

Most U.S. Adults Not Getting Recommended 5 Daily Servings, Says CDC

This WebMD article points out what we already know; very few Americans are eating enough of the proper foods, namely fruits and vegetables.

People should eat at least five daily servings -- two or more servings of fruit, and three or more servings of vegetables -- as part of a balanced diet, says the CDC.

But today the agency reported that in 2005, fewer than 33% of U.S. adults reported eating at least two daily servings of fruit and barely 27% claimed to eat three or more daily servings of vegetables.

I found an odd coincidence about the last paragraph. Fewer than 1/3 of Americans eat the recommended 2+ fruit and 3+ vegetables servings and more than 2/3 of Americans are overweight. The really incredible part of this finding is that a the standards for "a serving" are paltry. A medium apple or orange, 12 grapes, 1 cup of spinach, or 6-8 carrot sticks is all it takes to get 1 serving. In essence, 1 serving is tiny and few people get enough of those, much less go over and above the call of duty.

I surmise that the culprit is our huge intake of displacing foods. Displacing foods are the processed crud that we fill our plates with that displace more healthful choices like vegetables and fruits. Bread and pasta displace broccoli and apples. Ice cream for dessert displaces a bowl of berries with coconut and cinnamon. A single moderately-sized salad can fulfill your entire daily requirement for these nutrient-rich plant foods. In the summer, I eat a family-sized serving bowl full of salad. This is a 10" round, 3-4" deep bowl heaped with spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, celery, radishes, walnuts, pecans, salmon or chicken, and homemade balsamic vinagrette or sesame dressing. According to the CDC's values, I probably eat 4 or 5 servings of vegetables in that one meal, not counting the fruit that follows as dessert. And to top that off, my other meals feature heaps of steamed vegetables, probably bringing my daily total to 12-15 servings of fruits and vegetables according to CDC guidelines.

If you really need justification for eating more vegetables, how does a reduction in risk for an enlarged prostate (men only obviously!) and improved brain function sound? Here's another one: it is virtually impossible to get fat from eating vegetables and nominal amounts of fruit.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Fructose-sweetened Beverages Increases Risk Of Diabetes In Rats

Here is an interesting, albeit not surprising, article from Science Daily. This article discusses a study on rats that showed an increase in diabetes from fructose-sweetened drinks. Fructose is the sugar found in fruit and is also concentrated in high-fructose corn syrup, which is so prevalent in our packaged foods industry. The scientists noted changes in liver function amongst the rats receiving the fructose drinks.

In this study, rats receiving fructose-containing beverages presented a pathology similar to metabolic syndrome, which in the short term causes lipid accumulation (hypertriglyceridemia) and fatty liver, and at later stages hypertension, resistance to insulin, diabetes and obesity.

A quick note about fruit:

"The fructose in fruit has nothing to do with this study," stresses Professor Laguna. "Fruit is healthy and its consumption is strongly recommended. Our study focuses on liquid fructose intake as an addition to the ordinary diet."

This is just more proof that ditching the soft drinks and other high fructose corn syrup containing products from your diet is a good move. The sugar hit from HFCS is incredible and, as this study shows, too much fructose deranges liver function. I've discussed some of the other effects of soft drinks before, such as high levels of the carcinogen benzene and an increase in pancreatic cancer risk. Don't stop eating fruit, do stop drinking soft drinks. It is the one of the top things you can do for your health.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Five Worst Dietary Trangressions

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that my "body hates me" because I don't generally eat pastured chicken. Because of the amount of food that I eat to support my body weight and activity level, it would be very expensive for me to eat $2/lb chicken everyday. So I grab antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken from the local grocery store at $.69-.99/lb on sale (wait until it's about a week from going out of date, then stock up the freezer). While the chickens are fed grains, they are not pumped up on hormones. I can shore up the poor omega-3:omega-6 ratio with some extra fish oil, which I do.

In light of that conversation, I want to touch on what I consider to be dietary indiscretions that will make your body hate you.

1. Refined Sugar
Number one on my list is sugar. Sugar hits the body with unbelievable metabolic damage. The glucose surge, the corresponding insulin surge, insulin receptor damage leading to insulin resistance, insulin resistance leading to Type II Diabetes...the list goes on. Sugar is just flat-out bad stuff. Encompassed in "refined sugar" is plain white sugar, brown sugar, and the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), possibly the worst food mankind has created. Fructose is the sugar found in fruit and also found in super-concentrated form (HFCS) in soft drinks and other junk (not "junk food", remember that there's no such thing. It is also the sugar that scientists use to induce insulin resistance (diabetes) in lab rats. Is there any question why America has become The Land of the Fat and Home of the Diabetic? High circulating glucose also damages arterial linings, which causes cholesterol to have to do its work to repair them (for which it gets the blame), and is a huge contributor to heart disease and stroke. While it is theoretically possible to screw yourself up with fruit, the average person is not going to eat enough fruit to really do so. Avoiding refined sugar is tied for #1 on my list of foods to avoid to improve your health. That doesn't mean you can never have a cookie or a slice of chocolate cake. It just means that sugar should be a treat, not a dietary staple.

An extension of this one is organic junk foods. The use of organic snack foods has also become a big thing these days. Whole Foods and Wild Oats are common household names and people assume that anything sold there must be healthful. Not so friends! Organic junk food is still junk food, albeit in a slightly more healthful wrapper. Replacing white sugar with an equivalent amount of honey or agave nectar does not decrease the sugar content, nor does it cause any considerable decrease in the effects on your blood sugar and insulin levels. Again, an occasional indulgence is fine and in that case, the organic or natural stuff is probably more healthful, in the same way that smoking one cigarette is more healthful than smoking five cigarettes. However, one should not assume that organic snack foods are dramatically better for you than nonorganic ones. Would you consider an organic Chips Ahoy to be a solid dietary addition?

1. Trans fats
I couldn't decide between sugar and trans fats for top billing as the worst foods in the American diet, so I made them both #1. How's that for indecision? Trans fats have been in the news a lot lately. They are a man-made fat that was intended to replace saturated fats, yet as with every other time man has tried to best Mother Nature, the cure ended up being far worse than the poison. Trans fats damage cell membrane rigidity, reducing their permeability to necessary nutrients, and damage arteries, contributing to atherosclerosis. Luckily, avoiding both refined sugars and trans fats is easy as they tend to come packaged together in the form of bakery items like cookies, cakes, muffins, and scones, and store-bought junk "food" like Twinkies and Pop Tarts. And you can't believe packaging that says "0g of trans fat". You have to check the package to see if the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" appear in the ingredients. If they do, then the product contains trans fats and the manufacturers are using the "round down if below 0.5g" loop hole.

3. Too few fruits and vegetables
The average American eats very few fruits and vegetables. As this USDA link shows, 27% of vegetable consumption is in the form of fried potatoes (French fries, potato chips, etc). Fifteen-percent of our tomato consumption is in the form of ketchup. And 1/3 of all pickles consumed are eaten on fast food sandwiches or as relish, probably on a hot dog. My quick search didn't turn up any raw numbers on average fruit and vegetable consumption, but I'm willing to bet that the average would not be promising. In the summertime, I eat a huge salad, along with a heaping mounds of vegetables at my other meals. When I say huge salad, I mean a 10" round by 3-4" deep "family sized" serving bowl, heaped with greens (usually an entire head of lettuce or bunch of spinach), carrots, cucumbers, celery, radishes, hardboiled eggs, some form of meat, ground flax seeds, walnuts and pecans, and home made salad dressing with herbs and/or spices. Heaping mounds of vegetables might encompass an entire family-sized bag of frozen vegetables or some other form of steamed vegetables that require care not to have them falling all over the table and floor. And I eat fruit on top of that. When you're taking in that many phytonutrients, a multi-vitamin isn't even a necessity. In the winter, I'm quite a bit lower carb due to seasonal eating. Regardless, I don't consider eating a half-cup of broccoli or a few peas with dinner to be a serving of vegetables. And even at the paltry intake recommended by the USDA Food Pyramid, most people fall short. If people would shore up their fruit and vegetable intake, the antioxidant content would excuse many of their other dietary transgressions, the fiber would help keep them "regular," and the bulk would keep them from eating donuts after dinner. Let's not forget the some other benefits of a high vegetable intake: protection against an enlarged prostate, improved workout performance, and improved mental function.

4. Grain products (bread, pasta, cereals, etc)
Next up is processed carbohydrates, which are invariably grain-based products. Foods like bread, pasta, cereal, and rice are generally considered to be healthful because they are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates. Unfortunately, that is not the reality. These foods are high in carbs and highly, but incorrectly, processed. I say incorrectly processed because grains require fermenting or sprouting to neutralize their phytic acid content. Phytic acid pulls calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron out of the body and can cause deficiencies. I include whole grains in this discussion too. While whole grain bread is better than white bread, it is still a highly processed food and one that doesn't fit into a hunter-gatherer diet. The body quickly breaks down all of these products into glucose, bringing up blood sugar quickly, and driving up insulin. As we've discussed before, insulin puts the body into fat storage mode and too much of it causes insulin receptor burnout and Type II Diabetes. I've also mentioned before that bread consumption and kidney cancer are linked. Furthermore, grains are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which throws the omega-6:omega-3 ratio off drastically. So in the end, the order of preference with grains, we have "no grains", then "whole grains", then "white grain products". Oh, and don't forget to check the ingredient labels of most of the breads in the store to see the high fructose corn syrup and the vitamins that are added for "fortification" to improve the vitamin and mineral content of these deficient foods.

5. Artificial sweeteners
Instead of eliminating bad habits, many people just switch one bad habit for another. One huge bad habit is a constant daily infusion of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame K, and Splenda. I see several problems with swapping your six-cans-a-day Coke habit for a six-cans-a-day Diet Coke habit. First, I'm not convinced that these artificial sweeteners are healthful in the long-term. Saccharine has already shown itself to be a carcinogen and humans don't have a promising track record of trying to best Mother Nature (see also: trans fats and Olestra). Second, while you may be avoiding the calories, you are not avoiding the sweet stimulation. Many people, including me, can go long periods of time without something sweet. But as soon as those taste buds are stimulated, watch out. The tongue doesn't recognize that artificial sweeteners are artificial. If it did, they wouldn't serve their purpose. The goal of a proper nutrition plan should be to reduce and eliminate the craving for sweets, not fool the tongue. Note that the tongue does more than simply taste food - it also alerts the body to what is coming down the pipe. When it senses "sweet," it alerts the body to prepare for "sweet". This preparation takes place whether the calories show up or not and likely involve some insulin secretion. If it is an occasional indulgence, the artificial sweetener is probably a better option. If artificial sweeteners are part of your daily intake, however, it is probably time to reevaluate your goals.

The Last Word
You'll notice that my list of what I consider the five most offending foods does not include grain-fed meats nor fruits and vegetables raised inorganically. The first step is getting someone to focus on meat, vegetables, nuts, oils, fruits, tubers, and squashes. It would be wonderful if everyone could afford grass-fed meats and organic produce. Unfortunately, that is not the reality of our food production system. I would rather see someone consume grain-fed meats (even those with antibiotics and hormones) than sugar and trans fats. If you're lucky, you can find organic or antibiotic- and hormone-free meats at your local supermarket for a reasonable price, which is a better choice than the standard commercially raised stuff. Obviously the best choice is grass-fed and grass-finished meats and poultry, but don't just throw up your hands and say "Too expensive," and then go back to gnoshing on Oreos. The same goes with produce. Organic is best, but I'd rather see someone eat truckloads of inorganic vegetables than no vegetables. I'm trying to balance what's best (organic produce and grass-fed meats) with what is reasonable for most people.

The beautiful thing is that taking care of the first four issues is pretty simple. Eliminating sugar and trans fats is first and foremost in any dietary change. Luckily, they usually come together in the same package, along with some form of processed grains. How's that for killing three birds with one stone? Cut out the pastries, donuts, Twinkies, Pop Tarts, and muffins and replace them with fruits and vegetables. See how easy it was to take care of numbers 1, 3, and probably 50% of 4? Of course, removing grains requires more than just cutting out junk, but it's a huge step in the right direction. You can cut out the breakfast cereals by going back to an old school breakfast of bacon (hopefully nitrate-free) and eggs or some of last night's leftover meat and vegetables. There is no rule that breakfast has to be made up of different foods than lunch and dinner.

If you have those five areas taken care of, a few other areas to focus on are reduction of polyunsaturated oils due to their knack for immunosuppression and their high omega-6 content, elimination of soy, and getting plenty of sleep. Soy has permeated the nation's food supply and is found in nearly all packaged foods. Luckily, you're aiming for a whole-foods based hunter-gatherer diet, which doesn't include packaged foods. Just like that, most of your soy and polyunsaturated oil intake is gone. Replace your vegetable cooking oils with olive, palm, and coconut oils. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of health, but I didn't include it in the list because it isn't a food.

If you respect your evolutionary roots, focusing on a forager's diet, you'll have no problem with losing fat, gaining muscle, feeling energetic, and being healthy. Meat, vegetables, nuts, oils (olive, palm, and coconut), fruits, tubers, and squashes.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Kevin McKay, a member of the CrossFit and Performance Menu forums, has put together a nice resource for the beginner. He explains the basic concepts of using short, intense workouts and has put together an 8-level bodyweight-only program (so no excuses!). He also touches briefly on nutrition, espousing much of the same values that I do, namely a focus on meat, vegetables, nuts, oils, and fruits. Kevin also provides a sample menu that can make the transition much easier.

The only thing I don't like about the site is that he provides abstracts of research articles that the common layperson cannot understand and provides none of his own comments to explain them. Since the site is aimed at the beginner, it would be prudent to not scare the beginners away with scientific mumbo-jumbo. Regardless, you can skip the articles that explain "why" and just stick to the rest of the site that explains "what and how" and get just as much from it. So check out SimpleFit if you're just beginning or know someone that can use a "bare bones" approach without delving into the nitty-gritty too much.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

High Blood Sugar Linked to Cancer Risk

Swedish Study Shows More Cancer in People With Higher Blood Sugar, Regardless of Diabetes

But when researchers looked at specific types of cancer, they found that both men and women with the highest blood sugar levels were more likely to have pancreatic cancer, urinary tract cancer, and malignant melanoma (the most deadly type of skin cancer) than those with the lowest blood sugar levels.
Also, the study didn't track all possible cancer influences. For instance, researchers didn't know the participants' diet, exercise habits, or family history of cancer.

Unfortunately, as the last part of this quote shows, the study doesn't actually prove anything, it just throws a bit of a question towards high blood sugar. However, while correlation doesn't prove causation, we have to consider if the link makes sense. A diet that promotes high blood sugar also promotes high insulin levels. Insulin is a very potent growth stimulator, which is why most people that have high blood sugar and high insulin also have high body fat. Insulin's purpose is to shuttle the nutrients you eat into muscle, liver, and fat storage areas. Insulin also has the ability to stimulate even more potent growth factors, known as insulin-like growth factors (IGFs). Studies have shown that individuals with higher levels of IGFs have a higher risk of developing cancer. Along with that, the preferred fuel of cancer is glucose, which the Standard American Diet supplies in abundance.

We can also consider this from the evolutionary standpoint of nutrition. High carb diets were not possible until the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago or so. Until that point, all humans lived as hunter-gatherers, eating animals and plant matter. Large quantities of grains were not available, so the staple carbs were roots, fruits, and vegetables. Fast forward to the 20th century when the industrial complex took over our food production and began churning out grocery stores full of cheap, high sugar products. Given that cancer is primarily a 20th century disease, along with so many others that are tied together (obesity, diabetes, etc), the logic fits.

Considering all of the other deleterious effects of a high sugar diet, it seems prudent to keep your blood sugar low by limiting yourself to a whole foods-based diet with carbs coming from fruits, vegetables, tubers, and squashes, rather than grain products like bread and pasta. Here is a short list of the effects of a high-carb diet:
- Higher Cholesterol, for those that worry about such things
- Diabetes and Double Diabetes
- An increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Higher risk of pancreatic cancer from soft drinks, a staple of the high-carb diet.

And let's not forget that another carb-heavy staple, bread, has been linked to kidney cancer.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

My First Published Article

Yes, that's right, I've been published. I recently submitted an article titled "The Spice of Life" to The Performance Menu about the many health benefits of common herbs and spices. It makes an appearance in Issue 26, which you can get for free here. Check it out and let me know what you think.

I can't recommend a subscription to this journal highly enough. Between Robb Wolf's coverage of the nutritionally geeky, Greg Everett's coverage of lifting techniques, Scotty Hagnas' cooking, and the spate of other contributors, The Performance Menu is sure to raise your AKP (Ass Kicking Potential). In the fitness and nutrition realm, The PM is the best $30 you can spend.

You can also get a copy of only my article here if you'd prefer to get a different issue as your free trial. Regardless of which route you go, check out the PM. And don't hold my article against them if you don't like it...those guys are far smarter than me.

Full-fat Dairy vs. Low-fat Dairy

Good news for women trying to conceive: eating ice cream may help! But low-fat dairy foods may increase the risk of infertility

I came across this article yesterday and thought you all might find it of interest. The main point:

Drinking whole fat milk and eating ice cream appears to be better for women trying to become pregnant than a diet consisting of low-fat dairy products such as skimmed milk and yoghurt, according to new research published in Europe's leading reproductive medicine journal, Human Reproduction, today (28 February).

I'm not a big fan of dairy products, especially pasteurized dairy, but this article does show that fat is not the deadly substance that it is made out to be. In fact, as we see, removing the fat from dairy products does more harm than good.

Of course, they still throw in this politically correct gem:
However, he said that it was important that women did this within the constraints of maintaining their normal calorie intake and limiting their overall consumption of saturated fats in order to maintain general good health. "Once they have become pregnant, then they should probably switch back to low-fat dairy foods as it is easier to limit intake of saturated fat by consuming low-fat dairy foods," he said.

So somehow saturated fat helps a woman become pregnant, but is bad for her after she's pregnant? I don't think anyone can logically argue that point. It seems logical that anything that reduces a woman's chances of proper ovulation is not healthful, period. First of all, they make "the calorie statement" again, which I've discussed previously. Then there's the fact that saturated fats are not unhealthful. But the nutritional world we live in says "fat is bad, saturated fat is really bad, and a truckload of carbs is good."

The bottom line is if you are going to consume dairy products, consume full-fat dairy products. Whether you are male or female, planning to become pregnant or not, it just makes sense to consume a food in as close to a natural state as possible. Removing the fat from a food necessarily changes that food, removing essential nutrients and changing the way the nutrients in the food work together.