Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Leave a comment

A bit more about food combining

PB&B sandwich photo by Kevin Reese. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

PB&B sandwich photo by Kevin Reese. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

After I wrote about the utter nonsense of food combining last week I had a reader contact me to suggest that perhaps I could elaborate on the positive side of food combining. To be clear, this is not what is traditionally meant by “food combining” which is a complicated way of eating which erroneously is believed to aid digestion and is more based on not eating certain foods in conjunction with others than with eating a variety of foods together.

I mentioned in my previous post that combining some foods can be beneficial in terms of absorption. Fat soluble vitamins (ADEK) need to be consumed with fat in order to be absorbed. This is one of the many reasons that a low-fat diet has been decried by dietitians. Skimmed milk with added vitamin D? No sense to it unless you’re washing down a croissant (or an avocado, nuts, or other fat-containing food of your choice).

In addition to aiding absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, certain foods can help with the absorption of other nutrients. Foods containing vitamin C can help with the absorption of iron, particularly from plant foods in which the iron is less bioavailable than in meats. For example, eating peppers with your spinach salad can help you to absorb more iron. Or having an orange with your oatmeal, tomatoes and beans, etc. Of course, there are also instances where nutrients can hinder the absorption of other nutrients. Tannins and fibre may decrease the absorption of some minerals and medications. Oxalate (found in spinach and some other fruits and vegetables) can impede the absorption of calcium.

As my astute reader pointed out, there’s also the benefit of glycemic control imparted by eating certain foods together. As any reader of Wheat Belly can (and likely will) point out to you, whole wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than white sugar. The thing that’s not taken into consideration when latching onto that fact is that we rarely eat whole wheat bread in isolation. Turn your bread into a peanut butter and banana sandwich or chicken salad sandwich and you’ve altered the glycemic load of the meal because you’ve added other macronutrients. Consuming fat, protein, or fibre can all help to mitigate the effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar. This is why, if someone with diabetes is experiencing low blood sugar it’s much better to give them candy or juice than a chocolate bar. On the flip-side, this is why most dietitians will recommend that you consume two food groups at snacks. Having a piece of fruit and a few nuts or cheese and crackers, berries and yoghurt, veggies and hummus… will help to prevent a spike in your blood sugar and keep you feeling full for longer that if you were to just have a piece of fruit. It also helps you to meet your nutrient needs if you include a vegetable or fruit as part of your snack.

Advertisements


2 Comments

Book review: Gluten Freedom

81DDGm1jlyL

After I wrote my post on Grain Brain I was contacted by the publisher of a new book about gluten Gluten Freedom. They offered to send me an advance reading copy with the hope that I would love it and share my love of it with others. Or, most likely, at the very least, not write a scathing review. Fortunately for them, I quite liked it.

Unlike other books about gluten *ahem* Wheat Belly, Grain Brain, this book isn’t about vilifying gluten or wheat. Dr Fasano even states that for anyone who doesn’t have celiac disease, a wheat or gluten allergy, or gluten sensitivity, there’s no reason to avoid gluten. This book is not about eliminating gluten to cure all ailments. It’s about how to deal with specific gluten disorders (primarily celiac disease).

I respect the fact that Dr Fasano is a researcher and not just a doctor aiming to prey on people who are desperate to lose weight. He actually conducts research experiments to examine celiac disease and the effects of gluten on other conditions. Gluten Freedom is not about fear mongering. It’s about how people with gluten-related disorders can live normal healthy lives.

This book isn’t for everyone. It’s more of a handbook to help people suffering from celiac disease (and their families) develop ways to live without gluten. There’s great information about addressing situations at school and for seniors. There’s also a couple of interesting chapters at the end discussing new preventions and treatments for celiac disease. In addition to being a handbook it’s also an informative read for health care practitioners and for an antidote for devotees of Davis and Perlmutter.


17 Comments

Dissecting the Wheat Belly

url-2

I wasn’t planning on blogging about Wheat Belly. I just thought that I should actually read it so that I could discuss it knowledgeably. However, I made the mistake of starting to read it right before bed and was seething with frustration by the end of the introduction! I’ve decided to record my thoughts in response to particular statements in the book as a cathartic exercise.

I am going to argue that the problem with the diet and health of most Americans is not fat, not sugar, not the rise of the Internet and the demise of agrarian lifestyle. It’s wheat – or what we are being sold that is called wheat.

The advice we’ve been given to eat more “healthy whole grains” has deprived us of control over appetites and impulses…

Hold up! So, is wheat the problem? Or are grains in general the problem? After all, there are many other grains besides wheat. I sure hope that Davis can make up his mind before the end of the book.

Davis provides a couple of examples of people benefiting from eliminating wheat from their diets. Are these your average overweight Americans? Nope. A woman with ulcerative colitis and a man with joint pain. It’s entirely possible that these two people were suffering from some form of wheat allergy. Two people with specific health conditions are not enough to prove that wheat is what’s making everyone fat.

Just looking at the cover… Those bagels look delicious. I never eat bagels. What voodoo is this book?

Chapter One: Davis keeps mentioning weight gain being concurrent with the increased consumption of “healthy whole grains”. Then he uses whole wheat bread as the example because it has a high glycemic index (putting aside the fact that this would likely be mitigated by consuming bread with other foods). To me, this is not a healthy whole grain. How about wheat berries? One quarter of a cup of which contains only 170 calories, 6 grams of fibre, and 7 grams of protein. The problem here is not the grain, it’s the processing. Oh, and let’s not forget the consumption of excess calories!

Chapter 2: All this talk about the message from health organizations being to “eat more healthy whole grains”. Funny, I always thought the message was to make more of your grain servings whole grain. Not simply to eat more whole grains overall.

This chapter focuses on the vast genetic difference between modern wheat and its ancestors. Haven’t we hugely altered the genetic profile of all of our crops though? None of them would be the same as those consumed by previous generations. This loss of diversity is certainly unfortunate from an environmental as well as a culinary standpoint. However, I’m not sure why wheat has been singled out here. Why not corn, or milk, or honeycrisp apples? Etc.

I also love Davis’s little “experiment” on himself (wherein he feels fab after eating a three egg cheese omelette for breakfast but foggy after toast). Of course there could be no bias or psychological factors involved when he has a vested interest in the results showing that modern wheat is toxic. (Please read the previous sentence in sarcasm font).

Chapter 3: Where we learn that wheat is dangerous for numerous reasons. One reason: it’s abundant in carbohydrate which gives it a high glycemic index. I’ve blogged before about the foolishness of claiming a snickers bar is healthier than whole wheat bread simply because it has a lower GI. In addition to the carbohydrate, wheat is uniquely dangerous because it contains gluten which causes illness in those with celiac disease and wheat allergy. Funny that this should also make wheat perilous for those of us without those conditions to consume. People can be allergic to any food. Just because some people react badly to a food doesn’t mean that no one should consume it. If that were the case we would all be extremely malnourished.

Chapter 4: Some mention of interesting sounding research involving gluten and the brain. As my first degree was in psychology I love research that marries nutrition and psych. Must check-out the original articles to see if it was good research.

Can’t help but wonder why it’s necessarily a bad thing that wheat is allegedly a mood enhancer. Perhaps there may be psychological benefits to wheat consumption.

Chapter 5: Am starting to get very annoyed with Davis’s persistent claim that the health care industry pushes “more healthy whole grains”. 1. We do not. We push more vegetables and to choose whole grains instead of white flours. 2. There are many grains other than wheat. We encourage variety

I am also getting frustrated with the yammering on about the high GI (glycemic index) of whole wheat bread. GI isn’t very meaningful. GL (glycemic load – how much an actual serving of a food increases blood sugar) is more helpful. Still not the be all and end all in diet but better than GI. The GL for whole wheat bread is only 9. That’s a low glycemic load food.

Now he’s using celiac disease as an example. Yes, of course people lose weight if they give up gluten (which is in more grains than just wheat; negating the blame wheat for everything theory) and don’t replace it with calorie dense gluten-free alternatives. This is because they are consuming fewer calories! I will give Davis credit for advising people not to replace glutenous foods with highly processed gluten-free alternatives.

Chapter 6: I’m mostly fine with the information about celiac disease although there is some manipulation of stats to make it appear as if gluten is also the cause of other ailments such as diabetes, cancer, gastric reflux, and IBS. I’m finding myself wondering if every little ailment I have might be cured by the elimination of wheat.

Chapter 7: I agree that carbohydrate reduction may be beneficial to glucose control for those with diabetes. However, I disagree with Davis laying the blame on wheat. There are many sources of carbohydrate and blood glucose control would likely be seen by limiting all sources, not just wheat.

Chapter 8: Davis writes about the association between celiac disease and osteoporosis. The problem with association is that it doesn’t equate to causation. Isn’t it likely that the cause of osteoporosis in celiac sufferers is due to chronic nutrient malabsorption? Therefore, extrapolating that wheat causes osteoporosis to non-celiac sufferers is quite a stretch.

Chapter 9: I find it interesting that Davis states that eliminating wheat will reduce blood acidity. Unless you have a medical condition, our bodies are excellent at regulating blood pH balance. In addition, the ketosis that Davis encouraged with his low-carb diet can, if extreme enough, actually increase the acidity of blood: keto acidosis.

Chapter 10: This chapter is all about how wheat causes heart disease through increased small particle LDL and triglycerides. While it’s true that wheat products may contribute to these undesirable particles in the blood it’s important to note that wheat is not the only culprit. Any simple carb can contribute to elevations in these particles. As can a lack of exercise/sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, and genetics. Wheat is the easy target because it’s dominant in our North American diet. This doesn’t mean that it’s to blame for heart disease.

Chapter 11: Absolutely terrifying to think that suddenly we could start suffering from cerebral ataxia. Davis sure is doing a good job of scaring the wheat out of us. It’s true that gluten may play a role in some cases of cerebral ataxia. However, how common is cerebral ataxia? According to the National Ataxia Foundation, an estimated 150, 000 Americans have hereditary or spontaneous ataxia. That’s about 0.04% of the population. If we look only at the prevalence of sporadiac ataxia, we’re looking at about 0.0084% of the population. Considering that some of these cases may be related to gluten, we’re looking at a really small percentage of the population. We already have so much to worry about. This is fear mongering.

Chapter 12:

Wheat is really the worst in carbohydrates. But other carbohydrates can be problem sources as well, though on a lesser scale compared to wheat.

Davis then goes on to list foods that should be reduced or eliminated: cornstarch and cornmeal, snack foods (e.g. Chips, pretzels, and crackers), desserts, rice, potatoes, legumes, gluten-free foods, fruit juices, soft drinks, dried fruit, other grains,

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This sounds very much like many other low-carb fad diets with a touch of paleo thrown in for good measure.

Note that once wheat is eliminated and an otherwise thoughtful approach to diet is followed – I.e., eating a selection of foods not dominated by the processed food industry but rich in real food – there is no need to count calories or adhere to formulas that dictate optimal percentages of calories from fat or proteins. These issues, very simply, take care of themselves…

This is quite simply untrue. Calories do matter. If you consume more calories than you burn you will gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than you burn you will lose weight. Of course it’s not a simple mathematic equation but to suggest that the mere elimination of wheat will lead to weight loss is incredibly misleading.

As I was reading I made note of all the conditions which Davis stated that wheat elimination could alleviate or cure:

Obesity (especially visceral fat), schizophrenia, depression, breast cancer, various digestive problems, eating disorders, diabetes, IBS, GERD, cancer, hair loss, arthritis, LDL, heart disease, encephalopathy, peripheral neuropathy, cerebellar ataxia, seizures, and myriad skin conditions.

I’m sure that I missed a few in there. I don’t know about you, but when I hear about a cure-all like that I think “snake oil!”. There are too many promises here. Too good to be true? I’m afraid so.

While most of us could benefit from consuming more varied sources of grain and fewer processed foods, eliminating wheat is not a magical cure. It’s just another fad diet.


3 Comments

Optimyz edits

rainbow-fruit-skewers-3

I recently participated in my first Mud Run. It was more fun, and more challenging than I expected. But, this is beside the point. In our swag bags there was a copy of the magazine Optimyz. Why these magazines seem to pander to pseudo-healthcare professionals is beyond me. Actually, no, it’s not. It’s because good solid advice isn’t “sexy”. It’s the same reason that people would rather buy green coffee bean extract and visit a holistic healer than to listen to a dietitian. So… In this magazine were a couple of sentences that bothered me. One was in an article about “Wicked wheat” and good old Dr William Davis’s Wheat Belly agenda. While the author actually reached the same conclusion as most sensible people “I see no magical elixir within the pages and practices of the “Wheat Belly Diet”” she also made a couple of  statements that made her seem completely clueless about the topic.

…I found it far-fetched that the Cheerios that got me out of bed in the morning back then were the cause of my current belly bulge battle.

The idea of giving up my treat of a bowl of oatmeal post workout seemed like the Everest of cold turkey quits. But I guess that dramatic reaction may indicate that I may have a problem with wheat.

Um… Neither of these statements indicate that you have a problem with wheat as Cheerios are made from oats and oatmeal is made from, you guessed it, oats! Sigh.

My other issue was with an article by a “certified nutrition coach” who said: “Post-workout carbs should come from… low sugar fruits such as blueberries and papaya.” I wondered to myself “are these low-sugar fruits?” To answer the question, let’s look at the sugar content of these and some other commonly consumed fruits (all quantities are based on a one-cup serving of fruit):

apple = 13 g sugar

orange = 17 g

strawberries = 7 g

banana = 18 g

blueberries = 15 g

papaya = 8 g

Yes, papaya is relatively low in sugar compared to some of these other fruits. However, blueberries are not. My point is that all fruits have nutritional benefits, no need to limit yourself to blueberries and papaya.


3 Comments

Wheat vs chocolate: a battle to your death

It seems like more and more people are turning to gluten-free or wheat-free products as a panacea, regardless of whether or not the avoidance of gluten or wheat is warranted. There are a number of books and advocates for such a diet; the primary one being Wheat Belly. Not having read the book myself (although I suppose I will have to remedy this at some point – I just don’t want to actually pay money to do so) I can’t comment on it directly. My current approach to dealing with zealous converts is to state that consuming too much of any one type of food is not a balanced diet and that most of us could benefit from consuming a wider variety of grains.

Anyway… A fan of the book enthusiastically told me that whole wheat bread causes a greater spike in blood sugar than a chocolate bar does. This did nothing to convince me of the evils of wheat. However, I can see how it might help to persuade someone who doesn’t fully understand the concept of the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL).

The GI is “the blood glucose response of a given food compared to a standard (typically; glucose or white bread).” It’s how rapidly your blood sugar will increase when you consume a particular food (containing 50 g of carbohydrate), as compared to a simple carbohydrate which is easiest for your body to convert into sugar. A GI of 55 or less is considered to be low, 56-69 is medium, and 70 and above is high. However, GI only considered the form of carbohydrate in a food, it failed to take into account the fact that people may not (and often do not) consume foods in quantities that will provide them with 50 g of carbohydrate. Thus, GL was developed. The GL is “the amount of carbohydrate in a food multiplied by the glycemic index of that carbohydrate. The result is then divided by 100”. The GL is a percentage; the lower the number the less overall impact the food actually has on your blood sugar. Less than 10 is low GL, 11-19 is intermediate, and more than 20 is high.

Let’s compare that whole wheat bread and chocolate bar. One slice of whole wheat bread has an average GI of 69 and a GL of 9. One ounce of chocolate has a GI of 49 and a GL of 9. Whole wheat flour is finely ground so it’s rapidly converted into blood glucose. Even though chocolate has a lower GI than bread it actually has the same GL depending on the quantity consumed. Clearly, there is no reason to demonize bread based on this data alone. GI and GL are just a couple of small tools in food selection. Different sources will provide you with different figures for the same foods. In addition, the GL for one variety of whole wheat bread may vary significantly from another. The other foods you consume at a meal will all provide different GLs so unless you’re eating plain bread or bread with just jam on it, knowing the GL of your bread isn’t all that useful. Also, gluten-free and wheat-free breads have similar GI and GL profiles to whole wheat bread rendering a switch to these products for this reason alone unnecessary.

If you’re considering going wheat- or gluten-free because it’s the trendy thing right now you might want to reconsider. Unhealthy gluten-free products are a rapidly growing industry. Instead, consider consuming a wider variety of grains and try to consume more grains in as close to their natural state as possible. Some to try: wheat berries, buckwheat, wild rice, millet, groats, barley, etc.

*All figures taken from Perspectives in Nutrition by Gordon Wardlaw and Jeffrey Hampl (no APA or MLA here. Take that university education!)