“Colon-cancer deaths rise among the young.  Why? Trend Puzzles Experts”

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The title of this blog entry is a page-one headline in The Seattle Times on August 23, 2017.  One more shocking blow to our public health that is a total mystery!!!

Lately the most shocking development in public health is the soaring rate of obesity among pretty much every sector of the American population.  And, of course, we have no idea what’s causing people to get fat!

Whenever the obvious explanation for an alarming and deleterious change in the public health is “because we are putting more junk in our mouths” – in other words, taking another wrong turn on the Standard American Diet (SAD) pathway – the newsworthy shock is always that the change is not only bad and alarming, but that it is always a mystery why it is happening.

The sub-headline from the Seattle Times piece continues with “Something ‘truly important’ going on; multiple causes explored.”

And the article begins with the predictable “A sobering new study has found that younger Americans aren’t just getting colon-cancer diagnoses earlier.  They are dying of colorectal cancer at slightly higher rates than in previous decades, and no one knows why.”

Well, OK.  We certainly wouldn’t want to start recklessly throwing around the blame for this SAD predicament – but, on the other hand, the SAD would be a good place to begin the blame game.  And how has the SAD changed for the worse over the past decade?  One word:  PALEO.  And we knew this was coming. Despite the modest benefits that some derive from the PALEO regimen – mainly tied to eating far less processed white flour and sugar, and cutting out dairy – the increase in meat consumption, which is the entire motivation of this meat-industry sponsored “diet,” overrides the health benefits from eliminating dairy and highly processed and sugar-enriched white flour.

The increase in colon cancer was predictable.  I don’t think there is a clear-eyed nutritionist that is surprised.  And it will get worse until we stop taking nutritional advice from cross-fit trainers and other meat-industry-sponsored purveyors of this Paleo nonsense.

Why do Paleo People Talk Funny?

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In my last blog you were taught the first rule of Paleo linguistics:  Protein means meat.  Protein once was a word referring to a macro-nutrient found in almost all foods that we consume.  OK – much of the “food” that we consume is “junk” in the language of my blog, but protein is found in both the junk and the real food that we ingest.

You will recall from an earlier blog that the Paleo “diet” is a marketing creation – and a marketing triumph of noteworthy proportions — of the meat industry.  The industry has unwritten the authorship and publication of the Paleo “literature” that is now occupying special shelves in book stores, including the several magazines demonizing gluten and, in newer cases, all grains.  The industry has underwritten special training and accreditation for Paleo “nutritionists” and has teamed with one particular commercial fitness regimen to actively promote Paleo food products (that would be meat) and to demonize gluten, grain, and dairy.  The marketing scheme chose gluten, other grains and dairy because they occupy a share of the daily caloric intake that the meat industry wanted to appropriate for its products.  Less grain and dairy — more meat.  It’s just good business.

The meat industry had spectacular results in an earlier era with its “Atkins Diet,” but that success began to wane with the death of Dr. Atkins.  The model was similar to the Paleo diet.  The meat industry marketers gloried fat and demonized carbohydrates, and promoted a twisted but seductive yarn that proclaimed “despite all the lies we’ve been told, fat is really good for us!” It was a remarkably successful marketing strategy, and the industry used the same strategic approach in its creation of the Paleo diet.

A key element of the Paleo hysteria is to demonize gluten, grain and dairy in ways that are truly hyperbolic.  My Paleo friends refer to gluten in the way I refer to cyanide. It is the perfect food villain in that it even sounds repulsive – who wants to be called a “Glute.”  Protein, on the other hand, is the pinnacle of nutritional aspiration, while carbs are the nadir:

Protein = Good = Meat

Carbohydrates = Bad = Everything Except Meat

Fat = Not Really so Bad = We Don’t Mention this Word

Remember:  Meat (mostly fat) = Protein (NOT FAT!!) = Good

So that’s how the word “Protein” came to mean “Meat.” Today’s simple lessen in clever and very successful marketing.

 

What “Protein” do you have to Add to my Salad?

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Last week I had lunch with a dear friend.  I had been warned that she is now following the “Paleo Lifestyle” and that she was pretty sensitive to any criticism about this (as the Paleo people are taught to be!). She ordered a salad at the coffee house where we were eating, and then asked the barista “what proteins do you have to add to the salad?”  To her credit, the barista either feigned or was genuinely perplexed by the question.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  My friend replied, “well, like chicken,” to which the barista happily announced they could provide.  And I, untactfully and forgetting the warning, said “or like spinach, or bok choy, or edamame – or many other foods that are protein dense.”

My friend, of course, in the parlance of Paleo devotees, was dutifully using the word “protein” as a synonym for “meat!”  You know – protein, meat – two words meaning the same thing! The Korean café next door displayed a wall menu with a whole category of choices labeled “Protein” – and all the choices were meat.

As you may remember from a recent blog post, spinach, bok choy, and edamame are all more protein dense than is, say, bacon or pepperoni or cheese.  Moreover, virtually every variety of meat is first and foremost a source of dietary fat, and secondarily a source of dietary protein.  Salmon, bacon, chicken, hamburger, ham, eggs – all of these items that the Paleo people refer to as “protein” — are denser sources of fat than they are protein, and in many cases much denser sources of fat.  For example, a calorie from bacon contains over twice the fat as it does protein, and a calorie from eggs delivers almost twice as much fat than protein.

So why doesn’t the Korean café’s menu show all those meat choices under a category called “FAT?”  And why didn’t my friend ask the barista “what fats do you have to add to the salad?”

I think you know the answer. But if you don’t, see my next blog for the story behind this untoward bastardization of our food language.

 

Fear of Protein Deficiency:  The Last of your Worries!

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One of my few and rarefied readers commented on my last blog that following my advice (to “Don’t Put Junk in your Mouth”) would “lead to a serious protein deficiency.”  My goodness!  Really?  That is frightening!

OK – it’s not really frightening.  First, let me suggest that if you are an American and under the age of, say, 150, then the chances of having seen your friends suffer from symptoms of protein deficiency are, in percentage terms, somewhere between a trace and a negative number.  The chances of having seen friends and family suffer from the toxicity of excess dietary protein are, in contrast, just a shade under 101 percent!

The SAD (standard American diet) is a veritable feast of protein – an orgy of protein doping.  If you are or have ever suffered from protein deficiency, then hurry down to your family physician and alert the local and national new media to join you.  This will be a spectacle that we haven’t seen in many lifetimes!  The headlines: “First American patient to exhibit protein deficiency symptoms in over a century!”

Alright – I exaggerate just a bit.  If you have been on a multi-week hunger strike – and some have done this – then you could very well be deficient in dietary protein.  But if you are not currently actively starving yourself, then you are surely hosting ample protein in your system.

The other interesting twist on the reader’s comment was to juxtapose “spinach” and “bacon” in her assault on my advice, as in “you rate bacon as a 1.2 out of 5 on nutrient density, while failing to mention that bacon delivers the necessary protein that you could never get from spinach, despite it getting a full 5 out of 5 in your questionable ‘nutrient density’ scale.”

An interesting comparison, indeed!  In my last blog, while I did compare spinach and bacon on both nutrient density and dietary fat content, I didn’t compare the two on dietary protein.  Which do you think has the higher protein density?  Bacon of spinach?

If you said spinach, then you get an A+ on your savvy comprehension of comparative macro-nutrient content from common food sources.  Spinach delivers a whopping 30 percent of its calories from dietary protein.  If you were to eat nothing but spinach (don’t try this – for lots of reasons!) you would be ingesting a hugely excessive amount of dietary protein, far more than your body can use and far more than is safe for you to consume.  And the same could be said for bacon, which delivers 29 percent of its calories from protein, and, as pointed out in the last blog, 70 percent of its calories from dietary fat – and virtually no nutrition!

When I think of dense sources of dietary protein, I think of spinach (30 percent), bok choi (32 percent) and edamame (31 percent).  All three of these foods are highly nutrient dense as well as protein dense – and all three deliver a far greater percentage of calories from protein than is healthful or safe.

So if you are worried about not getting enough protein because you are not eating meat, you can stop worrying.  If you are still eating meat and dairy, you can start worrying about coronary artery disease, diabetes, and myriad other chronic infirmities that are the bane of our SAD civilization.

 

Taking Stock at Fifty Blog Posts on Nutrition

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I’ve been a long time away from this conversation on nutrition as a science.  Other things sometimes get in the way of blogging on how to eat well – how not to put junk in your mouth.  As a refresher, you might want to go back to my very first post in this discussion, where I make my case for treating how we eat as a serious scientific endeavor – and not as a feast of industry-propagated fads.

Sadly, the SAD (standard American diet) is as toxic to our health as it is deeply entrenched in the economics of what we call the “food” industry.  Put simply, if we begin to move away from consuming most of our calories in junk, there will be enormous financial losses to the industries that supply that junk – to the entities that produce and sell soda, potato chips, hot dogs, beef, pork, poultry, milk, butter, cheese, oil, fruit juice, candy, and all conceivable configurations of processed and packaged garbage.

The premise of this blog is simple.  Eat real food.  Don’t eat junk.  Real food is nutrient dense and calorie light; junk is the opposite.  Get your nutritional science from meta-analyses of independent research.  In other words, look at comprehensive summaries of nutrition studies that are independent of industry sponsorship.  If you do this you will gravitate toward whole foods derived from vegetation, sometimes called “plant-based whole foods.”  That’s where nutrient density and caloric scarcity reside.

On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 signifies very high nutrient density and 1 very low, here are a few common “food” items with their nutrient density measure:

Items                           Nutrient Density                     Fat %

Spinach                                   5.0                                    14 %

Bok Choi                                  5.0                                   11 %

Snow Peas                               5.0                                     5 %

Bacon                                       1.2                                   70 %

Olive Oil                                  1.4                                  100 %

Chicken                                   1.7                                    54 %

The last three items are what we refer to as “junk” in this blog series – the stuff you should NOT be putting in your mouth.  As for caloric density, the best surrogate for measuring this affiliated measure of “junkiness” is the percentage of dietary fat derived from each calorie of these items.  That is the third column above – the measure of caloric density.

The astute observer of this “food versus junk” dichotomy may see a redundancy in our admonition to eat items that are nutrient dense and calorie light, since each criterion comes with the other.  Dietary fat delivers zero micro-nutrients; hence, items that contain a high percentage of calories from dietary fat will deliver very little in nutrition.  By contrast, real food – items that are nutrient dense – will automatically be calorie scarce.

So, to go back to the basic message of this blog series, just “Don’t Put Junk in your Mouth.”  That simple action will spare you worry about excess body weight, coronary artery disease and diabetes, and significantly attenuate your risks for myriad cancers, auto-immune disorders, and osteoarthritis.

 

Obesity in the News; Nutrition Advice in Corporate Pockets

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“For first time, more than 4 in 10 women in U.S. are obese” reads a June 8, 2016 headline in The Seattle Times. And, of course, the reason for this depressing milestone, according to the article, “remains a mystery to health researchers.”

 

Of course it’s a mystery; it’s always a mystery.  The reason can never have anything to do with what people are eating.  How pedestrian and naïve would that be?

 

Yesterday (June 12, 2016), in the Parade magazine supplement that sneaks its way into most Sunday newspapers, a page was devoted to The Skinny on FAT, and of course the Skinny is that dietary fat is now the elixir of good health.  The first sentence on the page says it all: Eating fat doesn’t make you fat.  Right.  Nor do guns kill people.  Nor does playing footfall cause CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

 

I think you’ve heard this story before.  Low and behold, after all these decades thinking that dietary fat is anything but salubrious, we are now finally enlightened to the magic of “good fat” and the “neutral” impact of “saturated fats – once considered bad guys,” to quote from the Parade magazine.

 

I’ve notice recently that a lot of the nutrition “studies” that support these outrageous claims about fat are published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a publication of the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).  I’ve also noticed that the ASN maintains an untoward propinquity to many of the pillars of healthy eating in America: Coca Cola, Monsanto, the Sugar Association, ConAgra, McDonald’s, Mars, the National Dairy Council, Pepsi, etc.

 

Okay, call me cynical, or maybe even a conspiracy theorist.  Or — maybe the “mystery” about why American women are now suffering a 40 percent obesity rate is hiding somewhere in the information above.  And, maybe, the causes of obesity are not a mystery among those who know and believe in the fundamentals of human nutrition.

God Please Save Us From Gluten!

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I suppose if you are one of the leading enemies of healthful eating – for example, if you are the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) – you will look for ways to distract consumers from the deadly realities of doping on animal fat and animal protein.  One way of doing this that has been remarkably successful is to create a phony agent of death and disability.  Currently the leading agent in this diabolical strategy is gluten.  Yes, we all have friends, who seem otherwise to be perfectly sane people, who speak of gluten in the same way that I speak of cyanide or Superman speaks of kryptonite.

 

I don’t usually post videos to my blog, but the following is so entertaining and so gut-wrenching funny that I just have to do it.  It’s a true masterpiece on the theme of putting gluten into some modicum of perspective.  You will want to share this with all your Paleo friends — just before you leave the country and shut down your email and phone connections!

 

 

I hope you enjoyed watching this.  He has my vote for an Academy Award for “hilarious shorts that convey an important truth.”

 

Friends – gluten is not your enemy.  Your enemies are the industries and institutions (like the NAMI) who want you to fixate on gluten and ignore all the real junk that you let into your mouth.

 

Don’t put junk in your mouth!  And don’t be so damn gullible!

Snake Oil and Public Broadcasting

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First, let me say once again that I love PBS – the Nightly News Hour, Frontline, Nova, and so much more.  Sometimes I even like it’s programming on health and nutrition, whose guest experts are sometimes good, sometimes bad, and increasingly ugly.

 

Such was the case last night when my local PBS affiliate aired an infomercial, masquerading as sound nutritional guidance, which was called something like Eat Fat to Get Thin.  I’m not making this up — the wording was close to this.  The fundamental message, which is a popular one now on several PBS “nutritional” programs, is that we need to be eating a lot more fat, especially “good fat.” The program was screened in front of a live audience that looked like it firmly embraced the standard American diet (SAD), hence its members were already getting about half of their calories from dietary fat.  And it showed.  But that still isn’t enough!!!

 

The nutritional “expert” was a family medicine physician who has presumably found that the road to riches lies in writing industry-subsidized books that make outrageous claims about how we should be eating.  For example, he asserted that a recent “study” showed rather remarkable health benefits to people who consume a liter of olive oil per week (no, really, he actually said this – and he’s not Donald Trump!).  For those of you reaching for your calorie counters, that would come to over 8000 calories per week from olive oil alone, which for most of us would be over half of our week’s caloric intake!  Now that should satisfy this PBS expert’s call for increasing our fat consumption!

 

He offered some good advice along with the ugly.  For example, he asserted that we should avoid eating dairy products.  We can’t argue with that.   But when the speaker turned to how we might remedy our unhealthy under-consumption of dietary fat, he suggested, at least twice during the program, that we eat more “grass-fed butter.”  Okay.  Aside from the wonderfully novel expression “grass-fed butter” (who makes these things up?), the speaker seemed to suffer no conflict with his assertion that we should avoid all dairy products.  I’m guessing – just a guess — that the object being fed grass in the process of producing “grass-fed butter” is a cow.  Which I think would make “grass-fed butter” a diary product.

 

The speaker for this PBS infomercial, in addition to being a popular author, is the chair of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a group promoting alternative medical therapies that are conspicuously lacking in scientific support.  One prominent critic of functional medicine condemned the opening of FM centers at two universities as an “unfortunate example of pseudoscientific quackery infiltrating medical academia.”  I think he was being kind!

 

I know that operating finances are difficult for PBS, and that it’s tempting to continue airing pay-to-play infomercials that peddle such nonsense as the need to increase dietary fat intake in a population that is literally doping on dietary fat.  PBS could probably afford to pay someone who is academically qualified to vet programs that claim to offer sound nutritional advice.  As it stands now, more and more of these PBS programs are forums for selling snake oil.

Some Random Thoughts on New Year’s Eve

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Being true to my blog purpose, I hope you all resolve to minimize putting junk in your mouths in 2016.  It’s not that hard.  But you first must be able to distinguish food from junk.  Let this be a brief and random summary of that distinction.

First, if an item is full of calories and empty of essential nutrients, it’s junk.  By and large, almost all “processed” items are junk (note that I resist misusing, and degrading, the term “food” when modified by the adjective “processed”).  Consume whole foods that are appropriate for the anatomy and digestive systems of human beings.  What is appropriate for humans?

You don’t need a Ph.D. in comparative anatomy to recognize that the human anatomy is that of the herbivore.  Nothing in the human anatomy fits the anatomical requirements and features of an omnivore, despite Michael Pollan’s bestselling tome.  Nor, obviously, does it possess the features of a carnivore’s anatomy.  We were made to eat vegetation.  We are best served by eating whole, not processed, vegetation.  Here are some guidelines:

Eat oranges, not orange juice.

Eat olives, not olive oil.

Eat applies, not apple juice.

Eat potatoes, not “French fries.”

Eat broccoli, carrots, spinach, pinto beans, peas, strawberries, garbanzo beans, brown rice, whole grains, onions, garlic, kale, and cauliflower – all those things you will find in the uncrowded produce section in your grocery store.

Don’t eat potato chips (or any “chips”), peanut butter, Wonder Bread, oil (yes, that includes no olive oil), soda, crackers, frozen “dinners,” pizza, cheese, meat, yogurt, granola bars, enriched cereals (yes, that’s pretty much all of them), anything with added sugar, anything with added oil, anything with added anything – all those things you will not find in the uncrowded produce section in your grocery store.

Now – in the interest of public safety and health – here are a couple caveats.  Let’s say you want to deviate a bit from the “don’t put junk in your mouth” guidelines, and nibble a bit on meat for New Year’s Eve.  Do not apply the “no processing, whole foods” rule to items that are not appropriate to your herbivore anatomy – especially not to meat.  Real carnivores can eat just fine following their version of “no processing, whole food,” which they do when they snatch their prey, rip it apart with their teeth, and scarf it down on the spot.  That works just fine for self-respecting carnivores.  It does not work fine for herbivores, for whom “unprocessed whole meat” is categorically unsafe, even in the short term (yes, in the long term meat is unsafe for human consumption, no matter how you process it).  But to survive meat-eating in the short term, be sure you process it by cooking it thoroughly.  Humans can eat as though we were omnivores only because we can cook, at high heat, items that we are not made to safely process by our digestive systems.  So if you continue to eat meat, do not eat unprocessed meat as a real carnivore would.

Finally, last night our PBS station aired a discussion around being “in defense of food” (whatever that is supposed to mean?), hosted by Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and Omnivore’s Dilemma.  Predictably the program began by identifying a few unassailable enemies of modern health: sugary sodas, chemically processed stuff of all kinds, products that egregiously add sugar, fat and salt just for their role in taste addiction, and products that are made from ingredients that no one can understand.  This builds credibility with viewers who know these products are killing us.  But eventually the program moves to the predictable obfuscation, with Pollan repeating his advice to eat real food, not too much of it, mostly from plants – and casually assuring the viewers that if they “eat mostly plants” that they have no fear of eating too much meat.  There are a couple problems with this. First, eating mostly plants has no reference point.  Does that mean eating most of one’s calories from vegetation?  Or does it mean that vegetation occupies the most volume, or most weight, on your dinner plate?  What does it mean?  I ask this because I could easily eat “mostly plants” by volume or weight, and consume most of my calories from meat and dairy.  In fact, the plates that were visible throughout the show were entirely inadequate to support most people’s caloric needs if they were representing the “mostly plants” mandate based on calories – the accepted measure for food consumption.  For example, if you are eating eighty percent of your calories from vegetation, you will need to consume far more food than that which appeared on the skimpy plates in the show.  If you are getting all of your calories from vegetation, you will need to consume about four times the volume of food that was visible on the program’s plates.  Which calls in question the “not too much” food admonition from Pollan – because if you are currently getting over half of your calories from fat and protein, as  you would be on the Western or Standard American diet, you will need to substantially increase the amount of food you consume to meet your daily caloric and nutritional requirements.

So the program leaves the views at best confused; at worst mislead.  And this is exactly the goal of this kind of modified infomercial that has increasingly become a mainstay of public television.  The industry that supported this program strives to create confusion and obfuscation, so that everyone viewing it can rationalize what they are currently doing as appropriate and at least reasonably healthful.

Let me end with a rebuttal to this message.  In short, the program’s message was to eat whatever you want to, with the notable exception of absurdly processed products.  This is not a good or safe message.  Sound nutrition demands much more.  Making a joke of epidemiology, which the program does, is not respectful to science.  And make no mistake about it; epidemiology is a science and arguably the most important scientific vehicle for exploring nutrition.  Rejecting the power of inferential statistics is both unscientific and unprofessional.  It reminds me of the decades-long success of the tobacco industry in arguing that no “causal relationship” could be proved in relating tobacco consumption to lung cancer and myriad adverse health effects.  And finally, the program showed studies that raised “questions” about nutritional conventional wisdom, without even mentioning the industries that supported those studies, nor that the studies have been thoroughly discredited by credible researchers.

Bottom line:  when it comes to nutrition, go with solid nutritional science and with impartial nutritional scholars – not with journalists.

Happy New Year!

 

Obesity Link – to the Coca Cola Company?  Say it Ain’t So!

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Under the theme of “follow the money” we have this unsurprising revelation from earlier this month.  A nonprofit corporation calling itself the Global Energy Balance Network (funny name, no?), which was established to combat obesity, claimed that it had received an “unrestricted gift” from the Coca Cola Company to help carry out its work in fighting the scourge of obesity.  Oh, and for those skeptics out there, this was a genuine no-strings-attached gift and involved “no input” from Coke.

I can tell some of you readers aren’t quite buying this!  You cynics, you!

Well, OK, maybe you were right to follow the money on this nefarious caper.  The Associated Press looked a little deeper into this relationship (which is surprising in itself!) and found emails showing that Coke a) helped with the selection of the nonprofit’s leaders, b) edited its mission statement, and c) suggested content for its website!  Now that is what I call a truly “unrestricted gift” with “no input” from the donor!

The anti-obesity group lasted about one day after severing its relationship with Coke, which was tantamount to cutting off its head and severing its limbs.  Coca Cola, by any other name (like, for example, the disingenuous Global Energy Balance Network), is still Coca Cola.  And, yes, “things go better with Coke,” especially if Coke is paying for them.  Just ask the defunct Global Energy Balance Network!