Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Are apples the key to curing obesity?

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A few weeks ago the media was reporting that apples may provide the cure for obesity. I was a little more sceptical. I mean, how many overweight and obese people do you know who eat apples? Probably lots. If apples were capable of curing obesity everyone would be thin.

My first concern was that this research was conducted on mice. That means that it may (likely) is not translatable to humans. A couple of things to consider: these mice were fattened up by being fed a very specific high-fat diet. Obesity is a complex condition with myriad factors. Unless the reason for people being overweight is due to consuming a similar diet to these lab mice, it’s quite likely that they will not respond to this weight loss treatment in the same manner as the mice. I also wondered how much apple the mice were fed. How much apple would humans need to consume to see similar results? Here’s where it gets crazy: the mice did not eat the apples. Yep, that’s right. We have no idea how much apple would be beneficial to humans as we don’t know how much would be beneficial to mice. Rather than feeding the apples to the mice, the researchers made a slurry of apple compounds and mouse faeces. They found increased levels of certain bacteria that are commonly found in the faeces of slim mice in the cultured faeces of obese mice. Their results were not statistically significant. They showed a trend toward increased levels of some bacteria and butyric acid, and decreased levels of other bacteria in the faeces-apple slurries of obese mice but none of the changes (save the decreased bacteria) were large enough to be statistically significant.

It’s impossible to say whether or not eating apples (how many, how frequently) would have similar effects on the fecal microbiomes of mice or humans. We also don’t know if these microbial changes do occur if they would result in weight loss. Without knowing this, it’s a ridiculously huge leap to suggest that consuming apples could be a treatment for obesity. This didn’t stop the authors from concluding that:

These results suggest that dietary fibre and phenolic compounds remaining in apples after IVD might help to prevent metabolic disorders driven by an altered microbiota in obesity, and potentially protect from an obesity-disturbed balance of microbiota.

It also didn’t stop the media from publishing articles with headlines like: “An apple a day could keep obesity away: Granny Smiths promote friendly bacteria helping us feel fuller for longer” and “Granny Smith apples can help prevent the damage of obesity“.

I do think that research into our microbiomes is going to provide insight into many illnesses and conditions. However, our individuals microbiomes are extremely variable. Suggesting that this research using mice will translate to obesity treatments for humans. It’s also extremely unlikely that consuming one healthy food will negate the effects of an overall unhealthy diet. That being said, apples are nutritious and it’s certainly not going to hurt you to have an apple a day.


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Does fat cause breast cancer?

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I don’t even have to read the study about high-fat diets causing breast cancer in teenage girls to say that it’s essentially meaningless. Just reading the news article pissed me off. Why? Because the headline reads: High Fat Diet Tied To Accelerated Breast Cancer Development In Teenage Girls. Oh no! Maybe we were wrong (again!) that fat isn’t the demon food we once believed it to be. Read a little further… “the researchers fed a group of female, pubertal mice a high fat diet”. Wait… So this study didn’t actually study human teenage girls? Well, how much fat is “high-fat”? And what type(s) of fats did these mice eat? Perhaps I do need to turn to the actual study after all.

Mice on the low-fat diet were given 10-12% of total calories from fat. Mice on the high-fat diet were given 60% of total calories from fat. The fat was from corn oil and lard. Mostly lard. Up to 54.5% of total calories came from lard. Can you imagine eating more than half of your calories in a day from lard? Presuming an average teenage girl needs 2, 000 calories a day (give or take a couple of hundred) that means that about 1, 080 calories come from lard! That’s more than 100 grams of lard. And that’s not even counting the calories from the corn oil!

The study found that the high-fat diet affected genes in the mice associated with breast cancer. Interestingly, the high-fat diet had no effect on weight (more evidence that calories do matter). Their conclusion was that a high-fat diet can increase the risk of breast cancer in girls, independent of weight status.

My conclusion: humans are not the same as mice. If you are a mouse eating obscene amounts of lard and corn oil on a daily basis you might have cause for concern. Even if you’re not a mouse, that’s too much lard.