bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Follow Friday: @gloomchen

This isn’t your usual Follow Friday. I’m not telling you that you should follow my fito friend Summer (aka Gloomchen on twitter and fitocracy) although you should. Rather, I’m encouraging everyone who can afford to, to donate to her indie gogo campaign.

She’s trying to raise the money to get much needed surgery. She lost over 140 lbs and has kept it off for over ten years now. If you’ve ever scrolled through one of her fito workouts you know that she works HARD to maintain this loss. As you can imagine, weight loss of this magnitude has left her with some loose skin. This is both a physical and psychological burden. However, it’s not covered by health care so she needs to come up with enough money to cover the cost of the procedure and recovery. While she has been saving money for some time now she still needs $6, 500 (not counting donations already pledged). Please visit the link above to donate and to view her youtube channel. If you are unable to donate, please share the link with your social networks.


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Fat does not equal fat

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The article: Anyone Silly Enough to Think Fat is Good for You Needs to See This Brain Study made me want to scream and scarf a bag of potato chips out of spite.

The article reports that the study found that body fat doesn’t just sit around your midsection, it also affects your cognitive function. This lead them to the conclusion that recent reports that dietary fat has been wrongly demonized are incorrect.

What’s my problem with this? One, body fat and dietary fat are not the same! You can become obese by consuming too many fat-free foods. Dietary fat does not equal body fat. The study was looking at  body fat not dietary fat. This means that we can’t go blaming butter. Two, the study was done on mice. Mice are not humansYes, it’s quite likely that excess body fat has negative effects on many aspects of your system. However, we can’t make the leap from a study on mice to humans. And we most certainly can’t make the leap to dietary sources of fat.


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Look at this almond milk drinking hipster

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I feel like the anti-almond milk article Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters that was published in Mother Jones and making the rounds on social media last week was intentionally crafted to get a rise out of people. If the author, Tom Philpott, really wanted to educate people about the downside to almond milk I don’t think he would have led with a title like that (or maybe he had nothing to do with the title and Mother Jones is just trying to rustle some hipster jimmies). Regardless, I’m sure some jimmies were rustled. I’ll take the bait.

I’m far from a hipster myself, but I still feel like I have to defend the consumption of almond milk, to a degree. I think that Philpott raises some very valid and important points. Almond milk is not as nutritious as cow’s milk, or even soy milk. It’s very low in protein. Our sudden love for almonds is also an environmental concern. I’ve heard that bees are trucked from all over the States for the almond pollination in Cali every year. Consuming almonds as milk is also certainly not the most nutritious way in which to consume them. But…

Philpott neglects to address those who cannot consume cow’s milk. He touches on lactose intolerance. However, not everyone who consumes almond milk is a lactose-intolerant hipster. There are a number of reasons that people do not consume cow’s milk: milk allergy, veganism, poverty (milk is expensive!), religion, personal preference. These people deserve an alternative to cow’s milk. Almond, soy, rice, hemp, coconut, flax, and quinoa milks all provide reasonable alternatives for cooking, cereal, and drinking. It’s not like cow’s don’t have a huge environmental footprint themselves. I think the key here, as with everything, is to consume a variety of foods.


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Follow Friday: Food sharing

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Apparently the Germans (besides having the best soccer team) are also leading the world in food waste innovations. Last week I shared the new package-less supermarket, this week the food sharing website.

I learned about this site from the NPR blog The Salt where they shared a little bit about the premise and its development.

Essentially, it’s like freecycle for food. You sign-up; then you can post food to share, get food from others, or meet people and share a meal with them. The idea is based on the fact that we waste a lot  of perfectly good food, and about half of that waste comes from households. You buy a cabbage but only use a quarter of it for a recipe or you’re going away and have perishables in your fridge or you buy a new cereal and you hate it. Instead of just throwing away, or composting, your perfectly edible excess food, now you can give it away through the website. Very cool.


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Revisiting Dr Esselstyn

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A reader recently commented on a blog post from over a year ago: <a Something's Greasy About Dr Esselstyn's Diet. He suggested that I take a look at some recently published research supporting the diet (and, I think, revise my previously stated opinion).

One of the links was to a series of case studies presented by Dr Esselstyn. As we know, case studies can be interesting, especially in cases of rare conditions, but are not readily generalized. As coronary artery disease (CAD) is a fairly common condition, I feel that it’s more prudent to focus on larger research studies when developing recommendations for the public.

The other link was to a study conducted by, you guessed it, Dr Esselstyn. The study followed 198 CAD patients who were counselled in plant-based nutrition for approximately 44 months. Upon follow-up it was found that 21 were non-compliant (what ever that means… more on this to follow). The remaining participants all showed significant improvement, and only one experienced a related medical incident (i.e. stroke) during those 44 months.

The biggest issue with this study is that there was no control group. There is nothing to compare the participants with. It’s entirely possible that a group, provided with all the same medical treatments and advice, minus the nutritional counselling would have fared just as well. It does seem unlikely, but without the inclusion of such a group, there is no way to be certain that the nutrition counselling (and subsequent adherence) was the reason the participants fared so well. In addition, there was no control for any potential confounding factors. The authors didn’t control for anything. That means that the success could have been due to physical activity/exercise, sleep, stress reduction, socioeconomic status, etc.

There are a few other issues I have with this research. The article states that:

Initially the intervention avoided all added oils and processed
foods that contain oils, fish, meat, fowl, dairy
products, avocado, nuts, and excess salt. Patients were also asked to avoid sugary foods
(sucrose, fructose, and drinks containing
them, refined carbohydrates, fruit juices, syrups, and molasses). Subsequently, we also
excluded caffeine and fructose

However, “We considered participants adherent if they eliminated dairy, fish,
and meat, and added oil.”

My issue with the diet prescribed by Dr Esselstyn was the lack of healthy fats. I have no issue with a vegetarian diet (yes, I’m still not convinced that oil, fish, and dairy products are unhealthy, especially for those who do not suffer from CAD) which is what the adherent participants followed. This means that they could have added nuts, seeds, nut butters, sugar, coffee, avocado, and so on, to their diets and still been adherent. A far cry from the original Esselstyn diet. In turn, I also wonder what the non-adherent participants consumed. Did they eat some fish or meat? Drink some milk? Or were they chowing down on fast food and Hungry Man dinners on the regular? Without knowing these things we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion that the Esselstyn diet is superior to all other diets when it comes to treating CAD.

Naturally, there’s also the issue that (despite stating that the authors had no known conflicts of interest) Dr Esselstyn is the author of a number of heart health and lifestyle books that would surely take a hit in sales were research contrary to his hypothesis to be published.

Sure, this study warrants further research into the benefits of plant-based diets (and Dr Esselstyn’s very low-fat plant-based diet) for CAD patients. I’d like to see some larger studies with control groups conducted. Until then, I’ll still be cooking with oils and enjoying my guacamole.