Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Smackdowns Galore

Pity the proponents of high-carb diets and calorie restriction. They've had the roughest week since Denise Minger dismantled the China Study.

First, Jimmy Moore of the Livin' la Vida Low Carb blog dropped the bombshell that a member of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Committee (U.S.) publicly stated that there was no scientific basis for the U.S. dietary guidelines. Excerpt below--see Jimmy's blog for the whole jaw-dropping scoop.

Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, professor of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, was the head of the Carbohydrate Committee and on the Protein sub-committee for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee. She was invited to be one of the guest speakers at The 9th Conference on Preventative Nutrition in Tel Aviv, Israel on May 18, 2011. Perhaps Ms. Slavin felt more at liberty to express her true feelings about the final version of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines being overseas and didn’t realize that I’d have eyes and ears listening in to what she had to say. But according to my source [Miki Ben Dor] who was in attendance to hear her speech, you could tell she had an obvious discontent with the nutritional recommendations that are now being thrust upon Americans.

"There is no scientific basis for the U.S. Dietary Guidelines."

Yes, you read that right! Although Slavin was a major part of the scientific panel that went into creating the nutritional recommendations that will become the standard for what constitutes a “healthy” diet for the next five years, she feels the final version was not based on that science. My source noted that she described the review process where members of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee were asked to base all of their recommendations on the scientific evidence specifically related to humans, especially intervention studies. However, there was only one problem with that according to Slavin.

"There are no human intervention studies."

She explained that in the end the Committee had to rely primarily on prospective cohort studies or “expert opinion” which my source said she dismissed as inferior from a scientific point of view. My source said members of the audience were “flabbergasted” to hear such a prominent member of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee basically dismissing the recommendations that were revealed on January 31, 2011.

Next, well-known author and researcher Jenny Ruhl, who writes the Diabetes Update blog, smacked down the 600-calorie-per-day diet that supposedly "cures" diabetes 2 as "idiotically dangerous." (My post on a Ancel Keys's year-long experiment of a low-calorie diet and comparison to modern diet plans is here.) Excerpt below.

There's no mystery here, nor is the effect reported a result of "reducing fat in the pancreas" as the doctor who came up with this "cure" suggests. All he has done is craft a "balanced" diet that has so few calories it is also low in carbohydrates.

...because of [doctors'] fat phobia, the only way doctors can feel comfortable prescribing a very low carb diet is by pretending they aren't prescribing one--which they do by prescribing "balanced" diets, one like the one reported here, where the calories are so low that a diet that includes 33% of calories in the form of carbohydrate becomes a low carb diet.

In fact, there's nothing new or healthy about the low cal diet this doctor has come up with. The starvation diet is well understood--and very expensive. It can only be pursued under the supervision of paid medical staff that includes trained nutritionists because cutting calories that low on your own can be extremely dangerous both to your body and your mind.

The classic research on ultra low calorie diets, the starvation research conducted by Dr. Ancel Keys during WWII showed that people eating very low calorie diets developed psychoses (i.e. severe mental illness) at a surprisingly high rate, as well as many other important health problems. Poorly crafted medically supervised low fat starvation diets have caused deaths in the past.

Jenny also cites some of the failures of gastric bypass surgery and commercial interests in the medical industry, plus achieving good blood sugar control with a low carb diet, in the same post. I know from watching my mother that whacking out carbs helps tremendously in controlling blood sugar.

Finally, Dr. Richard Feinman gives a big thumbs down to a paper stating that there's no advantage of a high protein diet v. a high carb diet in managing diabetes:
The paper by Larsen, et al. [1] represents a kind of classic example of the numerous studies in the literature whose goal is to discourage people with diabetes from trying a diet based on carbohydrate restriction, despite its intuitive sense (diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance) and despite its established efficacy and foundations in basic biochemistry. The paper is characterized by blatant bias, poor experimental design and mind-numbing statistics rather than clear graphic presentation of the data. I usually try to take a collegial approach in these things but this article does have a unique and surprising feature, a “smoking gun” that suggests that the authors were actually aware of the correct way to perform the experiment or at least to report the data.


One strategy is to take advantage of the lack of formal definitions of low-carbohydrate diets to set up a straw man. The trick is to test a moderately high carbohydrate diet and show that, on average, as here, there is no difference in hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides and total cholesterol, etc. when compared to a higher carbohydrate diet as control – the implication is that in a draw, the higher carbohydrate diet wins. So, Larsen’s low carbohydrate diet contains 40 % of energy as carbohydrate. Now, none of the researchers who have demonstrated the potential of carbohydrate restriction would consider 40% carbohydrate, as used in this study, to be a low-carbohydrate diet. In fact, 40% is close to what the American population consumed before the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Were we all on a low carbohydrate diet before Ancel Keys?

(After Ancel Keys finished the starvation experiment, he went on to develop the lipid hypothesis and started the low-fat diet curse.) Unlike most academic papers, Dr. Feinman's whole post is in plain English, making it easy to relish. The whole article is full of goodies like the ones quoted. (Hat tip to the Fat Head blog for bringing Dr. Feinman's post to my attention. In fact, if you liked my post, you'll love the Fat Head blog--Tom Naughton does posts like the ones I quoted all the time.)

Executive Summary

Got diabetes? Or just wonky blood sugar? Think starving yourself is a good way to lose weight? Just whack the carbs way down and ignore the food pyramid.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Is Eating Dessert for Breakfast a Key to Staying Slim?

"Could yogurt be a key to staying slim?" asks the Washington Post. They look to Harvard for answers. But instead of looking to the priests of nutrition, let's see if we can answer this for ourselves.

What is yogurt? According to this fact sheet from Dannon,

The basic yogurt recipe is simply fresh milk, sweeteners, cultures and flavors or fruit.

Plus acesulfame K , Aspartame, cornstarch, fructose, gelatin, malic acid, pectin and/or phosphates.

According to this site, 4 oz (half of cup) of Dannon Activia yogurt contains 110 calories and 19 grams of carbohydrate, 17 of which are sugar, none of which are fiber.

Compare the yogurt to 4 oz of ready-to-eat chocolate pudding: 153 calories and 25 grams of carb, 19 of which are sugar. Except for a few extra calories (think two bites), these products are comparable.

While I'm loathe to quote doctors, one of them told me that I should take lactinex (a probiotic) while on antibiotics, and that the quantity in yogurt wasn't enough to do any good. I doubt that food that's basically pudding plus cultures makes a health food. It's more like chocolate cake for breakfast.

Want a healthier dessert for breakfast? Try making custard or flan (the night before) with a sweetener like Splenda. Custard made this way has eggs(!) and cream(!) and a fraction of the sugars, without the cornstarch, Aspartame or fructose.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Beat the Heat: Beyond the Barbecue Grill

It's hard to believe that last Monday, it was so cold and rainy I wore my winter coat. Today, it's 96 degrees outside, and 79 degrees in my house. There's no central central air conditioning to crank up, just a very slow-growing shade tree on the west side of the house, a medium sized catalpa tree on the south, and three ceiling fans.

Need I say I don't want light the oven?

If you want to avoid heating up your home in the summer, low-carb is great: there's no pasta to boil, no potatoes to roast, and not much bread, cookies, cake or other baked goods to bake. So what's for dinner? Deli meats, kippers, salad, olives, tomatoes, liverwurst on celery, cheese, dip (just add Mrs. Dash to sour cream) and some tasty parmesan chips I just discovered at Whole Foods.

Some of these are prepared foods that are pricey. If you want to save by cooking your own meat, cut it into small pieces or make a thin patty if it's ground so that it cooks faster. Consider using a pressure cooker for roasts, chicken or bigger pieces of meat--a pot doesn't throw off nearly as much heat as an oven, and it cooks meat in one-half to one-third the time. Vegetables can be steamed in the microwave. Don't forget the butter or olive oil; remember, high fat is part of the low-carb lifestyle.

Even though most low-carbers don't care for snacking between meals, I find I tolerate the heat much better if I eat a little something.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Maybe This is Why the Swiss aren't Fat

Tonight at the wine club meetup I attended, a waiter brought out an appetizer tray of cheese, olives, berries, pate, fatty deli meats, olives and dense white bread. A Swiss member who arrived in the U.S. two weeks ago told me that was typical fare in Switzerland. (In fact, it was typical of what my best friend and I ate on vacation.) I'm not a fan of bread, but overall, the appetizers were real, traditional foods with natural fats and a moderate amount of carbohydrates. Perhaps eating this kind of food is why the Swiss enjoy one of the lowest rates of obesity.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hitting it Over the Plate

Have you seen the new government food plate? What do you think?

Here's my food plate. It's pretty typical of what my best friend and I ate during our vacation of biking, dancing, clubbing, shopping, and generally running around. (Full disclosure: she ate quite a bit more carb than I did.)

Clockwise from the top, we have the fatty meat group (pepperoni), the full-fat dairy group (the caramel colored food is a bit of sweet Norwegian cheese), the fatty vegetable group (olives), and the carby vegetable group (tomatoes). To the right is the wine group (Sterling syrah from California's central coast; we also loved Bicyclette from southern France). My weight gain on the vacation: nada. Except for the wine, this is how I normally eat; I just upgraded for my best friend's visit.

How it works: carbs aren't the only source of energy for your body. It can run on dietary fat, too. (In fact, your body needs dietary fat for maintenance and repairs. Unless your blood sugar is crashing, you don't need carbs.) Be warned, though, if you aren't used to eating quite a bit of fat at one time, it can give you a stomach ache. After a week or two on a high-fat diet, though, your body will make enough enzymes to digest the fatty meals.

Of course I'm assuming you'd rather eat pepperoni, cheese, olives, tomatoes and wine than brown rice, chicken breast, broccoli and a canned peach with skim milk.