May 6, 2017

QotD: Cooking for one

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

You thought about cooking. You had frozen fish filets in the freezer and a rather nice-looking head of broccoli sitting right there in the produce drawer. But then, somehow, it was 8:10, and it all seemed like too much trouble, so instead you grabbed a bowl of Tostitos, a jar of salsa, and three slices of pepper jack, and you ate it in front of “Chopped.”

Or at least, that’s the explanation that an NPD analyst gave Marketwatch for America’s snacking habits.

    “It’s hard to shop and cook for one.” That’s one reason why people are buying more snack foods, she says. “They are individually packaged and often have a very long shelf life. That, and an awful lot of people do not have cooking skills.”

Those whitefish filets were probably going to be overcooked anyway. Tostitos, on the other hand, are always done to a turn.

I have some sympathy. When the Official Blog Spouse travels, sometimes I make things he doesn’t like, such as tofu stir-fry. And sometimes, I surrender to the siren call of Trader Joe’s Mac and Cheese Balls, which require no effort and are every bit as good to eat as they are bad for my waistline.

There are any number of articles and books that promise to tell you how to solve this problem. The best are merely adequate; the worst emit the quiet despair of an unmarked grave. I’ll concede that cooking for small numbers simply isn’t as much fun as cooking for a bigger group. Part of the joy of cooking is sharing the results. The labor-to-output ratio is lower for one or two, and you have to spend a lot of time fiddling with small amounts. Some things simply can’t be done efficiently for one or two people, which is why I save the rib roast for dinner parties. Other things shouldn’t be done for one or two people, which is why I am trying not to give in to the urge to make a layer cake this weekend.

Megan McArdle, “Friday Food Post: 10 Tips on Cooking for One”, Bloomberg View, 2015-08-21.

April 25, 2017

QotD: Coca-Cola seen as harmful

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I hate sweet drinks — Coca-Cola et al. — so passionately that I grow angry whenever I see someone buy or drink one. I hate their taste, I hate the horrible plastic bottles in which they come; to see people carry them around with them as if they were dolls or comfort blankets infuriates me. It appalls me worse that anyone actually likes them. The drinks don’t relieve thirst, they merely create it and make their drinkers wish for more: a perfect recipe, from a certain unscrupulous commercial point of view.

I was therefore secretly pleased to read in a paper published recently in the British Medical Journal that those who drink these disgusting concoctions are more likely than others to develop type 2 diabetes — the type that is increasing throughout the world at an alarming pace, and in some countries even threatening to reverse the increase in life expectancy to which of late decades we have grown accustomed as part of the natural order of things and now think of almost as a human right. Such diabetes is not only the wages of sin — gluttony — but of something that affects our everyday lives even worse, namely mass bad taste.

Of course, the paper in the BMJ can be criticized. A statistical association is not by itself proof of causation, though I should be surprised in this instance if the relationship were not causative. Again, in my heart of hearts I hope that it is. It would restore my faith that the universe is just.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Gluttons for Punishment”, Taki’s Magazine, 2015-07-25.

April 2, 2017

QotD: Gluttony and nutrition

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… in what kind of culinary culture could a product advertise itself, apparently with success, as a Whopper? The answer, of course, is crude and childish. We are almost back to the stage of some of the Stone Age tribes of New Guinea, who, at a feast, eat so much pig meat that they die of acute protein poisoning afterward. Except that we do not have their excuse of living in conditions of food insecurity in which the possibility of feast is very uncommon. Increasingly in our supermarkets it is difficult to find small portions of anything, which is a paradox because more and more of us are living alone and therefore need small portions. But once you have bought more than you need it is tempting to eat it because not to do so seems a waste, though in fact it is just as wasteful, and bad for your health to boot, to eat more than you need or even want as it is to throw it away. We need more self-control in matters of food consumption than ever before, unfortunately just as self-control has been derided as an inherently oppressive or even ridiculous notion.

Not long ago I read a book by Dr. Robert Lustig about the evils of sugar. It was abominably written but came, persuasively enough, to the conclusion that John Yudkin, a professor of nutritional science, came to 40 years ago or more: namely that sugar was the root of all evil (Yudkin’s famous, but also neglected, book had the splendid title Pure, White and Deadly).

Lustig blamed the food companies and government farming subsidies for the epidemic of type 2 diabetes (they are, of course, guilty as charged), but never the people themselves. This is because it is nowadays regarded as proper to blame only the rich and powerful for anything and never “ordinary” people, including the fat: Though where the sins of the rich and powerful come from then becomes a little mysterious unless it is assumed that they are a caste biologically apart from the rest of humanity. However, Lustig does relate the story of a young mother who gave her child a gallon of orange juice a day, with the natural result that the child soon came to resemble a prize pig at Blandings Castle. To explain her strange child-rearing practices the mother told Lustig that the government said that orange juice was good for children, from which she concluded that the more the better. Against stupidity the gods themselves, let alone mere government public health departments, struggle in vain, though in extenuation it must be entered that Linus Pauling, one of the few men ever to win two Nobel Prizes, believed more or less the same thing, and that heroic doses of vitamin C were the path if not quite to immortality, at least to much increased longevity. (I don’t want to sound like an American liberal, but honesty compels me to admit that it will now be very difficult for the fat boy raised on orange juice ever to lose weight, and I doubt that he will ever be slender.)

Theodore Dalrymple, “Gluttons for Punishment”, Taki’s Magazine, 2015-07-25.

February 17, 2017

Food texture

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Along with the actual flavour and aroma of food, the texture matters a great deal:

As eaters, we tend to downplay texture’s importance. A 2002 study in the Journal of Sensory Studies found that texture lagged behind taste and smell — and only occasionally beat out temperature — in terms of the perceived impact on flavor. But you only have to look at pasta to see how strongly texture impacts our perception of taste. We’ll eat macaroni and cheese in the form of spirals, shells, and noodles shaped like Spongebob Squarepants, but spaghetti mixed with florescent “cheese” powder seems anathema — it’s the texture that makes the difference.

For the longest time, food scientists downplayed texture’s importance as well. “When I was a student pursuing a degree in food science, I was taught that flavor was a combination of mainly taste and smell,” recalls Jeannine Delwiche, one of the authors of the 2002 study.

But how a food feels affects our enjoyment of the thing. There is, of course, the actual texture of the food, which scientists call rheology. Rheology focuses on consistency and flow. For example, it’s fairly evident that cotton candy has a different texture than plain sugar, even though sugar is its only ingredient. But the perception of a food’s rheology — what scientists call psychorheology — is another thing entirely. If you’ve ever wondered why sour candy always seems to come coated in rough sugar, the reason is simple: We perceive rougher foods as being more sour. Psychorheology is why we like gummy bears in solid but not liquid form, why we enjoy carbonated soda but balk at its flavor when it goes flat. It’s why we perceive gelato as creamier than ice cream — even though the latter has more fat.

Texture is an important indicator of a food’s fat content. If we can figure out how to trick our tongues into sensing more fat than is actually present in a food, we can increase satiation while decreasing a food’s calorie count. That’s why some researchers are finally turning their attention to these taste-making sensations.

February 2, 2017

Obesity and the adoption of a “western” diet

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Gary Taubes says the “case against sugar isn’t so easily dismissed”:

My concern in my essay and my books is a simple and regrettable fact: the epidemics worldwide of obesity and diabetes that occur whenever populations pass through a nutrition transition from a traditional diet and lifestyle, whatever that may be, to a western one. Something is causing that, and because obesity and diabetes, particularly type 2, are intimately linked to insulin resistance, we should be looking ultimately and desperately for the cause of insulin resistance. Geneticists would say we’re looking for the environmental trigger that reliably and often dramatically increases the prevalence of the obese and diabetic phenotype, regardless of the underlying human genotype. And because insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes are all intimately linked to heart disease, that trigger is almost assuredly going to be a cause of coronary heart disease as well.

But in this country, nutrition and chronic disease research from the 1950s onward was obsessively focused on a very different question: the dietary cause of heart disease in the United States and Europe. When the researchers decided on the basis of exceedingly premature evidence that dietary fat was the culprit, that drove all public health debates and thinking ever after. Even hypotheses about the cause of obesity and diabetes had to be reconcilable with the belief that saturated fat caused heart disease. As such, the evidence implicating insulin resistance in the disorder (and so the carbohydrate content of the diet) was delayed by 30 years in its acceptance, as I discussed in Good Calories, Bad Calories. Its implications are still not accepted because they clash with what remains of the dogmatic belief that saturated fat causes heart disease. And this all happened because researchers were asking the wrong question (and they got the wrong answer even to that): “why CHD in America now,” rather than “why obesity, diabetes, and insulin resistance in populations worldwide whenever they westernize?”


Now that we’re almost literally neck deep in obesity and diabetes, the right question is vitally important to answer. If the sugar hypothesis is wrong, it is critically important that it be refuted definitively. That can only happen on the strength of far, far stronger evidence than Dr. Guyenet provides in his somewhat flip and casual response. And if the sugar hypothesis is unambiguously refuted, whatever hypothesis steps up as the next prime suspect has to be very carefully considered. (i.e., not the simplistic notion that people eat too much and move too little). We need a hypothesis that holds the promise of explaining the epidemics everywhere.

In stopping an epidemic, nothing is more important than correctly identifying its cause. Where we are today with obesity and diabetes reminds me of where infectious disease specialists were through most of the 19th century, when they blamed malaria and other insect-born diseases on miasma, or the bad air that came out of swamps. That was mildly effective, in that it was an explanation for why the rich in any particular town preferred to build their homes on hills, high above the miasma and, incidentally, away from the swamps and lowlands and slums where the vectors of these diseases were breeding. But only by identifying the vectors and the actual disease agents do we help everyone avoid them and eradicate the diseases. Only by unambiguously identifying the cause can we effectively design treatments to cure it. The kinds of explanations that Dr. Guyenet and Freedhoff put forth – highly palatable foods or ultra-processed foods – are the nutritional equivalents of the miasma explanation. They sound good; they might help some people incidentally eat the correct diets or offer a description of why other people already do, but they’re not the proximate cause of these epidemics. And there is a proximate cause. We have to find it. I can guarantee it’s not saturated fat, regardless of the effect of that nutrient on heart disease risk. What is it?

January 13, 2017

That demon sugar

Filed under: Books, Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last week, Ronald Bailey reviewed a new book on whether the rise in obesity in western society can be blamed on our collective sweet-tooth: The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes.

Less than 1 percent of Americans — 1.6 million people — were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1958. As of 2014, that figure had risen to 9.3 percent, or 29.1 million. If current trends continue, the figure could rise to more than 33 percent by 2050. Something has clearly gone wrong with American health.

The rising rate of diabetes is associated with the rising prevalence of obesity. Since the early 1960s, the percent of Americans who are obese — that is, whose body mass index is greater than 30 — has increased from 13 percent to 35.7 percent today. (Nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight, meaning their BMIs are over 25.) Roughly put, the prevailing theory is that rising fatness causes rising diabetes.

But what if both are caused by something else? That is the intriguing and ultimately persuasive argument that Gary Taubes, author Why We Get Fat (2011) and cofounder of the Nutrition Science Initiative, makes in his new book, The Case Against Sugar.

For Taubes, sugar — be it sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup — is “the principal cause of the chronic diseases that are most likely to kill us, or at least accelerate our demise,” explains Taubes at the outset. “If this were a criminal case, The Case Against Sugar would be the argument for the prosecution.” In making his case, Taubes explores the “claim that sugar is uniquely toxic — perhaps having prematurely killed more people than cigarettes or ‘all wars combined,’ as [diabetes epidemiologist] Kelly West put it.”

Taubes surveys the admittedly sparse research on sugar’s psychoactive effects. For example, researchers have found that eating sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is also released when consuming nicotine, cocaine, heroin, or alcohol. Researchers are still debating the question of whether or not sugar is, in some sense, addictive.

Interestingly, in my most recent discussion with a doctor earlier this week, he specifically said that the dietary information we’ve been depending on for generations is incorrect and that we should avoid excess sugar in our diet rather than fat (keeping in mind total calorie count, of course).

June 30, 2016

JC Penney tries to supersize their clothing market

Filed under: Business, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The US clothing retailer recently launched a new campaign aimed at a larger target market:

You can see the commercial logic, of course. America’s obese population is growing — both numerically and horizontally — and JC Penney sells clothes. Someone has made the brilliant decision to market this once-respected brand to women who wear fumigation tents as prom dresses, and who think of Cool Ranch Doritos as a food group.

In fact, realizing how easy it is to sell to fat women I might announce a line of tea biscuits called “Milo’s Virtuous Snacks” with inspirational quotes on the boxes, such as, “You’re amazing even though you ate the whole pizza,” and, “Don’t worry that your left arm is numb, that’s just your FIERCE shining through.”

They’re $19.95 for a box of 10, but you can’t put a price on a woman’s self esteem or wellbeing. Well, JC Penney has I suppose, but my point is I too can profit from your inevitable painful death via type 2 diabetes, alone in your married sister’s attic. Of course I’m a fair bit cleverer than JC Penney: fattening up these cows will just create inventory for my other business — safari parks.

(I’m lobbying to make it legal to hunt any man over 20% body fat. But only with tranquilizer darts — I’m not a monster.)

In the long run though, this sort of business strategy doesn’t work. JC Penney is joining the ranks of consumer products companies following a bizarrely quixotic business model — help your customers feel good about themselves until they drop dead from obesity-related illnesses. The problem? When they die, they stop buying your XXXL clothing.

March 19, 2016

QotD: Dieting as a substitute religion

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A current New York Times news story, What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie, entertainingly chronicles the discovery that low-fat diets are bad for people. More specifically, that the substitution of carbohydrates like bread and pasta and potatoes for meat that we’ve all had urged on us since the early 1980s is probably the cause of the modern epidemic of obesity and the sharp rise in diabetes incidence.

I have long believed that most of the healthy-eating advice we get is stone crazy, and the story does tend to confirm it. One of my reasons for believing this is touched on in the article; what we’re told is good for us doesn’t match what humans “in the wild” (during the 99% of our species history that predated agriculture) ate. The diet our bodies evolved to process doesn’t include things like large amounts of milled grain or other starches. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate wild vegetables (especially tubers) and meat whenever they could get it.


But the evolutionary analysis only tells us what we probably should be eating. It doesn’t explain how the modern diet has come to be as severely messed up as it is — nor why the advice we’ve been getting on healthy eating over the last twenty years has been not merely bad but perversely wrong.

The answer is, I think, implicit in the fact that “health food” has a strong tendency to be bland, fibrous, and nasty — a kind of filboid studge that we have to work at convincing ourselves we like rather than actually liking. Which is, if you think about it, nuts. Human food tropisms represent two million years of selective knowledge about what’s good for our bodies. Eating a lot of what we don’t like is far more likely to be a mistake than eating things we do like, even to excess.

Why do we tend to treat our natural cravings for red meat and fat as sins, then? Notice the similarity between the rhetoric of diet books and religious evangelism and you have your answer. Dietary mortification of the flesh has become a kind of secular asceticism, a way for wealthy white people with guilt feelings about their affluence to demonstrate virtue and expiate their imagined transgressions.

Once you realize that dieting is a religion, the irrationality and mutual contradictions become easier to understand. It’s not about what’s actually good for you, it’s about suffering and self-denial and the state of your soul. People who constantly break and re-adopt diets are experiencing exactly the same cycle of secondary rewards as the sinner who repeatedly backslides and reforms.

This model explains the social fact that the modern flavor of “health”-based dietary piety is most likely to be found in people who don’t have the same psychological needs satisfied by an actual religion. Quick now: who’s more likely to be a vegetarian or profess a horror of “junk food” — a conservative Christian heartlander or a secular politically-correct leftist from the urban coasts?

Eric S. Raymond, “Diet Considered as a Bad Religion”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-07-17.

January 21, 2016

QotD: Obesity

Filed under: Education, Health, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What about obesity? We put a lot of social effort into fighting obesity: labeling foods, banning soda machines from school, banning large sodas from New York, programs in schools to promote healthy eating, doctors chewing people out when they gain weight, the profusion of gyms and Weight Watchers programs, and let’s not forget a level of stigma against obese people so strong that I am constantly having to deal with their weight-related suicide attempts. As a result, everyone … keeps gaining weight at exactly the same rate they have been for the past couple decades. Wouldn’t it be nice if increasing obesity was driven at least in part by changes in the intestinal microbiota that we could reverse through careful antibiotic use? Or by trans-fats?

What about poor school performance? From the social angle, we try No Child Left Behind, Common Core Curriculum, stronger teachers’ unions, weaker teachers’ unions, more pay for teachers, less pay for teachers, more prayer in school, banning prayer in school, condemning racism, condemning racism even more, et cetera. But the poorest fifth or so of kids show spectacular cognitive gains from multivitamin supplementation, and doctors continue to tell everyone schools should start later so children can get enough sleep and continue to be totally ignored despite strong evidence in favor.

Scott Alexander, “Society Is Fixed, Biology Is Mutable”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-10.

October 15, 2015

Carbohydrates and fatty foods

Filed under: Health, Science, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Amy Alkon glories in her current dietary choices:

I spend my whole day eating fat — bacon fat, kale cooked in bacon fat, an omelet with cheese and pate, coffee made with half ‘n’ half; and steak, sausage, cheese, and green beans swimming in butter. Oh, also, a tablespoon of coconut oil warmed in half ‘n’ half a few times a day, whenever my brain feels like it’s on fire from intense activity.

I have never felt better.

And I’m never hungry the way I would get when I ate low-fat/high-carb — a hunger that made me feel like I could stop and devour a road sign (and anyone unlucky enough to be standing next to it at the time).

On the subject of hunger’s effect on diet maintenance, Gary Taubes has an op-ed in The New York Times that describes a study, taking place toward the end of World War Ii, that placed men on a starvation diet:

    For 24 weeks, these men were semi-starved, fed not quite 1,600 calories a day of foods chosen to represent the fare of European famine areas: “whole-wheat bread, potatoes, cereals and considerable amounts of turnips and cabbage” with “token amounts” of meat and dairy.

    As diets go, it was what nutritionists today would consider a low-calorie, and very low-fat diet, with only 17 percent of calories coming from fat.

There were horrible physical effects — and psychological ones. Two men had breakdowns. And then, when they were allowed to eat normally, they consumed “prodigious” amounts of food…eating themselves into “post-starvation obesity,” in the researchers’ words.


    Questions like these about the relationship between calories, macronutrients and hunger have haunted nutrition and obesity research since the late 1940s. But rarely are they asked. We believe so implicitly in the rationale of eat less, move more, that we (at least those of us who are lean) will implicitly fault the obese for their failures to sustain a calorie-restricted regimen, without ever apparently asking ourselves whether we could sustain it either. I have a colleague who spent his research career studying hunger. Asking people to eat less, he says, is like asking them to breathe less. It sounds reasonable, so long as you don’t expect them to keep it up for long.

July 3, 2015

The unintended consequences of a bottled water ban

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Mark J. Perry talks about the outcome of a well-intended ban of bottled water at the University of Vermont:

Here’s the abstract of the research article “The Unintended Consequences of Changes in Beverage Options and the Removal of Bottled Water on a University Campus,” which was just published in the July 2015 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (emphasis added):

    Objectives. We investigated how the removal of bottled water along with a minimum healthy beverage requirement affected the purchasing behavior, healthiness of beverage choices, and consumption of calories and added sugars of university campus consumers.

    Methods. With shipment data as a proxy, we estimated bottled beverage consumption over 3 consecutive semesters: baseline (spring 2012), when a 30% healthy beverage ratio was enacted (fall 2012), and when bottled water was removed (spring 2013) at the University of Vermont. We assessed changes in number and type of beverages and per capita calories, total sugars, and added sugars shipped.

    Results. Per capita shipments of bottles, calories, sugars, and added sugars increased significantly when bottled water was removed. Shipments of healthy beverages declined significantly, whereas shipments of less healthy beverages increased significantly. As bottled water sales dropped to zero, sales of sugar-free beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages increased.

    Conclusions. The bottled water ban did not reduce the number of bottles entering the waste stream from the university campus, the ultimate goal of the ban. With the removal of bottled water, consumers increased their consumption of less healthy bottled beverages.


Wow, nothing worked out as expected by the college administrators at the University of Vermont: a) the per capita number of bottles shipped to the University of Vermont increased significantly following the bottled water ban, and b) students, faculty and staff increased their consumption of less healthy bottled beverages following the bottled water ban. Another great example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. And the bottled water ban was not costless – the university paid to modify 68 drinking fountains, they paid for a publicity campaign, and they paid for lots of “free” reusable water bottles; and what they got was more plastic bottles on campus of less healthy beverages!

June 22, 2015

QotD: Obesity

Filed under: Health, Quotations, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

The most maddening example of this is, of course, the case of thin people, or folks who could really stand to lose ten pounds, lecturing the obese on how stupid they are for letting themselves get fat. […]

As a friend who really struggles with his weight points out, the author seems not to understand that for people with a weight problem, weight loss often involves both: you’re tired and miserable and overweight, and also, you’re spending a huge amount of mental energy counting calories and making time for exercise.

Moreover, this really underplays the amount of mental energy we’re talking about. When you talk to people who have successfully lost really large amounts of weight as adults — amounts that bring them from the really risky “super-obese” category into something more normal — you find two things. First, that most of them don’t keep it off, unless they have bariatric surgery, in which case, 50 percent of them keep it off. And second, that the people who are keeping the weight off without surgery are going to extreme lengths to maintain their weight loss, lengths that most of us would probably find difficult to fit into our lives: weighing every ounce of food they consume, counting calories obsessively, exercising for long periods every day, and constantly battling “intrusive thoughts of food.”

It’s not quite fair to say that most of the public health experts I’ve seen talking about obesity are thin people brightly telling fat people that “Everything would be fine if you’d just be more like me!” But it’s not really that far off the mark, either. In the words of another friend who struggled with his weight, and got quite testy when I suggested weight loss was easy, “You’ve hit the pick six in the genetic lottery, and you think you earned it.”

Megan McArdle, “Dinner, With a Side of Self-Righteousness”, Bloomberg View, 2015-03-27.

June 18, 2015

Nutrition … what we thought we knew is wrong, again

Filed under: Government, Health, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy explains how historical “expert knowledge” and government cheerleading pointed in exactly the opposite direction of today’s experts and government regulators:

For decades, the federal government has been advising Americans on what to eat. Those recommendations have been subject to the shifting sands of dietary science. And have those sands ever been shifting. At first, fat and cholesterol were vilified, while sugar was mostly let off the hook. Now, fat is fine (saturated fat is still evil, though), cholesterol is back, and sugar is the new bogeyman.

Why the sizable shift? The answer may be “bad science.”

Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, composed of nutrition and health experts from around the country, convenes to review the latest scientific and medical literature. From their learned dissection, they form the dietary guidelines.

But according to a new editorial published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, much of the science they review is fundamentally flawed. Unlike experiments in the hard sciences of chemistry, physics, and biology, which rely on direct observational evidence, most diet studies are based on self-reported data. Study subjects are examined for height, weight, and health, then are questioned about what they eat. Their dietary choices are subsequently linked to health outcomes — cancer, mortality, heart disease, etc.

That’s a poor way of doing science, says Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama, and lead author of the report.

“The assumption that human memory can provide accurate or precise reproductions of past ingestive behavior is indisputably false,” he and his co-authors write.

Two of the largest studies on nutritional intake in the United States, the CDC’s NHANES and “What We Eat,” are based on asking subjects to recall precisely what and how much they usually eat.

But despite all of the steps that NHANES examiners take to aid recall, such as limiting the recall period to the previous 24 hours and even offering subjects measuring guides to help them report accurate data, the information received is wildly inaccurate. An analysis conducted by Archer in 2013 found that most of the 60,000+ NHANES subjects report eating a lower amount of calories than they would physiologically need to survive, let alone to put on all the weight that Americans have in the past few decades.

May 18, 2015

Your diet isn’t working. And neither is yours. And yours, too.

Filed under: Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Washington Post, Roberto A. Ferdman dishes the dirt on every diet guru’s most brilliant brain-fart … they don’t actually work.

For centuries, men and women have worked tirelessly to fit the physical molds of their time. Diets, which have ranged from the straightforward to the colorful and kind of silly, have produced a wide range of results — and all sorts of followings.

Not long ago, the Atkins diet villainized carbohydrates and convinced millions to avoid starches of any kind. Today, the Paleo diet, which purports to emulate the eating habits and digestive systems of ancient humans who lived for many fewer years than people on average do today, is perhaps the most popular — or at least talked about — dietary fad. Soon there will be another fad that sweeps the dieting conversation. And another one.

The question that seems to hover over all this diet talk is whether any of the myriad weight loss schemes have worked. If one had, shouldn’t it have survived the test of time? And if we’ve gone this long without a diet that has been shown to work — according to science, not simply the sellers of the fad — will one ever emerge that actually does?

The short answer is no, according to Traci Mann, who teaches psychology at the University of Minnesota and has been studying eating habits, self-control and dieting for more than 20 years. Over the course of her research, largely conducted at the University of Minnesota’s Health and Eating Lab, Mann has repeatedly asked these sorts of questions, and always found the same disappointing answers.

March 5, 2015

In search of healthy eating

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum talks about all the things we’ve been told about healthy eating … that just ain’t so:

For several years now I’ve been following the controversy over whether the dietary guidelines that have developed over the the past 70 years might be all wrong. And I’ve become tentatively convinced that, in fact, they are wrong. For most people — not all! — salt isn’t a big killer; cholesterol isn’t harmful; and red meat and saturated fat are perfectly OK. Healthy, even. Sugar, on the other hand, really needs to be watched.

Before I go on, a great big caveat: I’m not even an educated amateur on this subject. I’ve read a fair amount about it, but I’ve never dived into it systematically. And the plain truth is that firm proof is hard to come by when it comes to diet. It’s really, really hard to conduct the kinds of experiments that would give us concrete proof that one diet is better than another, and the studies that have been done almost all have defects of some kind.

Emphasis mine.

Randomized trials are the gold standard of dietary studies, but as I said above, they’re really, really hard to conduct properly. You have to find a stable population of people. You have to pick half of them randomly and get them to change their diets. You have to trust them to actually do it. You have to follow them for years, not months. Virtually no trial can ever truly meet this standard.

Nonetheless, as Carroll says, the randomized trials we do have suggest that red meat and saturated fat have little effect on cardiovascular health — and might actually have a positive effect on cancer outcomes.

At the same time, increased consumption of sugars and carbohydrates might be actively bad for us. At the very least they contribute to obesity and diabetes, and there’s some evidence that they aren’t so great for your heart either.

So where does this leave us? As Carroll says, the literature as a whole suggests that we simply don’t know. We’ve been convinced of a lot of things for a long time, and it’s turned out that a lot of what we believed was never really backed by solid evidence in the first place. So now the dietary ship is turning. Slowly, but it’s turning.

His primary take-away from all this: moderation is probably your safest bet, unless you have a condition that requires you to avoid certain foods or types of foods. Oh, and avoid over-indulging in packaged food that uses lots of preservatives. This is certainly one area where the science sure didn’t turn out to be settled, after all.

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