Archive for June, 2010

Dana Carpender posted this message from the Nutrition and Metabolism Society on her Hold The Toast site recently.  I’m delighted to see real scientists calling out the ADA for their nonsense.

As my mom found out, if your blood sugar is at or approaching diabetic levels, your doctor will probably send you to a nutritionist or dietician, who will probably tell you to eat lots of complex carbs and limit your fats.  It makes zero biological sense.

I’ll be in Chicago this week.  We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary by returning to the scene of the crime.  (Don’t tell the paleo fanatics, but this almost certainly means I’ll be indulging in a stuffed pizza from Giordano’s — still the best pizza I’ve ever had.)

I’ll check comments when I can and perhaps write a post if anything strikes my fancy, but mostly I plan to just enjoy the time off … and take my wife to the fancy seafood restaurant where, halfway through dinner on our second date, I knew I wanted to marry her someday.

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The Guy From CSPI is at it again. Take a look. (Sorry, you’ll have sit through a commercial first.)

As an online article about the lawsuit explains, CSPI is now apparently blaming Happy Meals for most of the nation’s health issues:

The nutrition group claims that using toys to entice children instills bad eating habits and puts kids at higher risk of risk of developing obesity, diabetes, or other diet-related diseases over the course of their lifetime.

Yeah, right. I visited my daughter’s school a few months ago to join her for lunch. She brought lunch from home:  lunchmeat, cheese, nuts and olives. The kids eating the government-approved school lunch were busy snarfing on

  • Four chicken nuggets
  • Peaches in syrup
  • A big scoop of mashed potatoes
  • A dinner roll
  • A box of juice

Anyone want to try to explain to me how that’s a nutritious meal, while a Happy Meal instills bad eating habits?

The CBS “unscientific experiment” was just plain silly, by the way.  Offer me a Guinness, or a Guinness with a 20-dollar bill attached, and you can pretty much guess which one I’d prefer.  It tells us nothing about how Happy Meal toys affect our food choices when we grow up.

I agree with Jacobson on one thing: five-year-olds don’t always understand that the point of advertising is to sell products. That’s why I rarely allow my five-year-old to borrow my wallet and car keys and go shopping by herself. But to hear the fruitcakes at CSPI tell it, you’d think McDonald’s has found some sneaky way of removing parents from the equation:

“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children,” CSPI’s litigation director, Stephen Gardner, said in a prepared statement. “It’s a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction.”

I think it speaks volumes when an organization identifies its own spokesman as the “litigation director” without wondering if perhaps that makes them sound like lawsuit-happy scumbugs. But that aside, the scenario the lawsuit-happy scumbag paints is ridiculous. If McDonald’s is the creepy guy handing out candy, then in the real world, his encounters with children would go something like this:

“Hello, little boy. Want some candy?”
“Uh … Dad, can I have some of the creepy guy’s candy?”
“How much is the candy, creepy guy?”
“It’s free!”
“I see. So what exactly do you want in exchange?”
“Well, uh … I thought maybe I’d invite your son to take a ride in my car afterwards.”
“Wow! Dad, can I go ride in the creepy guy’s car?”
“No, son. Now if you’ll step aside, I need to punch the creepy guy in the nose.”

McDonald’s can’t sell anything to little kids. They can only sell to the parents. So it’s not really the creepy guy with the candy that CSPI doesn’t trust … it’s the dad. Or the mom. This statement says it all:

CSPI director Michael Jacobson acknowledged that parents bear much of the responsibility for children’s eating habit — a criticism industry defenders often levy. “But multi-billion-dollar corporations make parents’ job nearly impossible by giving away toys and bombarding kids with slick advertising,” he said.

How does “bombarding” my kids with advertising make my job as a parent impossible? Sure, advertising has made my kids aware of Happy Meals toys. That’s why we sometimes have conversations like this:

“Daddy, can we go to McDonald’s?”
“No.”
“Puh-leeeeeeeease!”
“No.”

Or, if we’re at McDonald’s …

“Can we get the Happy Meal?”
“No. Mom said to get six McDoubles to go, and that’s what we’re getting.”
“But I want that toy!”
“No. It’s not worth the extra money.”
“But I really, really, really want that toy!”
“No.”

Trust me, it’s not that hard to say no. I do it all the time. If there are parents in the world who are powerless to say no when their kids whine, those kids are going to have far worse problems in life than bad eating habits. Besides, when they end up in prison, they’ll be fed according to the government’s nutrition guidelines — which The Guy From CSPI likes — so it all balances out.

Sometimes we say yes to the Happy Meals, of course. It’s our choice. We know exactly what we’re doing.  But The Guy From CSPI believes it’s because we’re stupid.  Or, to use the consumers-as-victims theory he prefers, we’ve been duped by “misleading and deceptive advertising.” I guess I’ll have track him down someday and ask for his definition of “deceptive.” I’ve seen the ads, and as far as I can tell, the message is:  Hey, folks, if you buy a Happy Meal, you’ll get

  • This fun little toy
  • A burger or small order of McNuggets
  • Apple slices or a small order of fries
  • A milk jug or a juice box

And wouldn’t you know it, when I take the girls to McDonald’s for a couple of Happy Meals, they end up with

  • The fun little toy
  • A burger or small order of McNuggets
  • Apple slices or a small order of fries
  • A milk jug or a juice box

If there’s deception going on here, it’s so deeply deceptive, I can’t even spot it. If I opened the Happy Meal box and found a tofu-spinach pie inside, then I’d feel deceived.

If anyone should be sued for deception, it’s The Guy From CSPI. He’s the one who insisted in his newsletters twenty years ago that hydrogenated oils were perfectly safe, then harassed the restaurants into using them for frying. It’s his organization that harassed schools into serving fat-free milk instead of whole milk — which provides growing brains the saturated fats they need. It’s CSPI that tells parents to give their kids cereal for breakfast instead of eggs.

There is a creepy guy lurking on the playground … but it’s The Guy From CSPI.

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So far I’ve managed to slug through two sections of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: the Executive Summary and a 62-page introduction titled Setting the Stage. It’s tough going, largely because the documents are written in that government-academia style that makes me want to rip my own head off.

I guess I should’ve expected as much. Early in his presidency, Jimmy Carter sent out a directive instructing government bureaucrats to write official documents “in plain English for a change.” Dream on, Jimmy. By the time the directive was edited and passed along, it probably called for “implementing a shift in publication protocols designed to facilitate and enhance the impactfulness of written communications by encouraging the frequent employment of commonly-used words and idiomatic expressions.”

One of the best books I’ve ever read on writing (Telling Writing, by Ken Macrorie) gave a name to that kind of language: Engfish … the dead-fish, stupefying form of prose that academics and bureaucrats often choose because they believe it makes them sound intelligent and important. Here’s one example from the Dietary Guidelines:

The first of these chapters considers the total diet and how to integrate all of the Report’s nutrient and energy recommendations into practical terms that encourage personal choice but result in an eating pattern that is nutrient dense and calorie balanced. The second chapter complements this total diet approach by integrating and translating the scientific conclusions reached at the individual level to encompass the broader environmental and societal aspects that are crucial to full adoption and successful implementation of these recommendations.

Hey, wake up!  There’s more.  Here’s their explanation of “total diet”:

The DGAC defines “total diet” as the combination of foods and beverages that provide energy and nutrients and constitute an individual’s complete dietary intake, on average, over time. This encompasses various foods and food groups, their recommended amounts and frequency, and the resulting eating pattern.

I see … so when you refer to the “total diet,” you’re actually talking about the total diet. Thanks for clearing that up.

Most of the Setting The Stage document is dedicating to explaining why the committee exists and how they’re going to save the American people from themselves. In plain, non-Engfish language, it could be summarized as a slight variation of the Mighty Mouse song:  “Here we come to save the daaaaaaaaaay!”

Since first published in 1980, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have provided science-based advice to promote health and reduce risk of major chronic diseases through optimal diet and regular physical activity… Because of their focus on health promotion and risk reduction, the Dietary Guidelines form the basis of Federal food, nutrition education, and information programs.

By law (Public Law 101-445, Title III, 7 U.S.C. 5301 et seq.,) the most recent edition of the Dietary Guidelines is reviewed by a committee of experts, updated if necessary, and published every 5 years. The legislation also requires that the Secretaries of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) review all Federal publications for the general public containing dietary guidance information for consistency with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

So the USDA has been issuing dietary advice every five years since 1980, and they’re responsible for enforcing consistency in federal dietary guidance. As they explain elsewhere in the document, their mission is especially critical now because

The prevalence of overweight and obesity in the US has increased dramatically in the past three decades … The 2010 DGAC Report is unprecedented in addressing an American public, two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese.

A dramatic increase in obesity in the past three decades … hmmm, let me do some math here … that would mean we’ve gotten a lot fatter since 1980, otherwise known as the first year the DGAC provided science-based advice to promote health and reduce risk of major chronic diseases through optimal diet and regular physical activity.

Since the body of the full report suggests they’re big believers in drawing conclusions from correlations, I couldn’t help but notice an interesting correlation there. Let me put it into proper Engfish:  Moderately strong correlational evidence suggests a causative link between the DGAC s semi-decadal dietary guidelines and the observed rise in the prevalence of obesity over the same period.

Yup, we started getting fatter right around the time the USDA started telling us how to eat. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe not. But I can guarantee you it would never occur to a government nutrition committee to even ask themselves the question. In fact, it’s clear from the rest of the Setting The Stage document that they already know why Americans have gotten fatter: We’re stupid.  (MeMe Roth is no doubt applauding.)

They didn’t come out say that, of course. That would be simple and direct. But various Engfish versions are all over the document:

Now, as in the past, a disconnect exists between dietary recommendations and what Americans actually consume.

Translation: those stupid fat @#$&s aren’t eating like we told them to!

The 2010 DGAC recognizes that substantial barriers make it difficult for Americans to accomplish these goals. Ensuring that all Americans consume a health-promoting dietary pattern and achieve and maintain energy balance requires far more than individual behavior change. A multi-sectoral strategy is imperative.

Translation: those stupid fat @#$&s are so stupid, they’re going to need a LOT of help to overcome their stupidity.

Ultimately, individuals choose the types and amount of food they eat and the amount of physical activity they perform, but the current environment significantly enhances the over-consumption of calories and discourages the expenditure of energy.

Translation: those stupid fat @#$&s are not only stupid; they’re also lazy and incapable of resisting temptation, probably because they’re stupid.

To achieve dietary goals and energy balance, Americans must become mindful, or “conscious,” eaters, that is, attentively choosing what and how much they eat.

Translation: the only way those stupid fat @#$&s will ever stop being stupid fat @#$&s is if they stop being stupid and start thinking more consciously about all the good advice we’ve been giving them for past 30 years before they run off and stuff their stupid faces.

As far as I can tell, the committee members never asked themselves how we all became so stupid in one generation, or what it was about our grandparents and great-grandparents that made them such mindful, conscious eaters. I seem to recall my grandparents pretty much just ate whenever they were hungry. Grandma whipped up plenty of food at mealtimes and there were usually leftovers put in the refrigerator, so they weren’t lean because they were starving themselves or running out of food to tempt them.

So what’s the cure for all that mindless, stupid eating? Well, since this document was written by a government committee, you can pretty much guess: a multi-sectored, multi-factorial, comprehensive strategy. In other words, mo’ better government!  (Here we come to save the daaaaaay!)  In Engfish:

A coordinated strategic plan that includes all sectors of society, including individuals, families, educators, communities, physicians and allied health professionals, public health advocates, policy makers, scientists, and small and large businesses (e.g., farmers, agricultural producers, food scientists, food manufacturers, and food retailers of all kinds), should be engaged in the development and ultimate implementation of a plan to help all Americans eat well, be physically active, and maintain good health and function. It is important that any strategic plan is evidence-informed, action-oriented, and focused on changes in systems in these sectors.

I’m sorry, but if it takes that kind of effort to prevent us from becoming fat and sick, we’re already dead. This isn’t World War Two, for Pete’s sake.

Change is needed in the overall food environment to support the efforts of all Americans to meet the key recommendations of the 2010 DGAC.

Here’s how you can change the overall food environment: stop subsidizing grains. There are many references in the full report to the evils of “grain-based desserts.” Maybe if our tax dollars weren’t making them dirt-cheap, the profit motive for producing them would go away.

To meet these challenges, the following sustainable changes must occur:

Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, including safe food handling skills, and empower and motivate the population, especially families with children, to prepare and consume healthy foods at home.

Increase comprehensive health, nutrition, and physical education programs and curricula in US schools and preschools, including food preparation, food safety, cooking, and physical education classes and improved quality of recess.

Translation: we need to start brainwashing the stupid fat @#$&s to follow our advice at an early age, before their taste buds develop.

For all Americans, especially those with low income, create greater financial incentives to purchase, prepare, and consume vegetables and fruit, whole grains, seafood, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, and other healthy foods.

Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks, and farmers’ markets.

Ensure household food security through measures that provide access to adequate amounts of foods that are nutritious and safe to eat.

Translation: we need to start bribing the stupid fat @#$&s who also happen to be poor so they’ll start following our advice.

Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains, and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.

Thaaaaat’ll be interesting:

“Hello, this is the USDA calling. We’d like to encourage you to serve more tasteless, health-promoting foods in your restaurant, preferably in smaller portions.”

“Yeah, we tried that. Nobody bought the stuff, so we couldn’t make a profit on it. Sorry.”

“Ummm … I’m afraid you don’t understand. We’re encouraging you.”

“Uh-huh. Consider me encouraged. Now, if you’ll excuse, it’s busy here today, so–”

“Look, damnit! We’re ENCOURAGING you to do what we say!  Now take the encouragement, or we’ll have to regulate you!”

There’s more to it, of course. And after laying out their multi-factorial, multi-sectoral, comprehensive, coordinated, strategic, guaranteed-to-create-a-few-thousand-federal-jobs plans, the committee explains why their work is oh-so important:

The US Government uses the Dietary Guidelines as the basis of its food assistance programs, nutrition education efforts, and decisions about national health objectives. For example, the National School Lunch Program and the Elderly Nutrition Program incorporate the Dietary Guidelines in menu planning, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) applies the Dietary Guidelines in its educational materials, and the Healthy People 2010 objectives for the Nation include objectives based on the Dietary Guidelines.

As you may recall, when government inspectors visited my daughter’s school, we received an apologetic note from the principal reminding us that every lunch — even the ones we send from home — must meet federal guidelines when inspectors are on site. So we had to fill my daughter’s lunch bag with grain-based, low-fat garbage for a couple of days. Then we put her back on a good diet. Enforcing federal guidelines isn’t the solution. It’s part of the problem.

The evidence described here in the 2010 DGAC Report, which will be used to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, will help policymakers, educators, clinicians, and others speak with one voice on nutrition and health and to reduce the confusion caused by mixed messages in the media.

As a libertarian with an interest in both science and nutrition, this sentence, perhaps more than any other, set my hair on fire. (And I don’t have much left.) Speaking “with one voice” may appeal to the government mentality, but it is absolutely, positively the opposite of what’s required for any kind of progress.  I don’t care what field you’re talking about — nutrition, climate science, physics, philosophy, economics, etc. — progress is not the result of manufactured consensus; it’s the result of individual thinking and robust debate. Allowing the so-called experts to control the discussion and speak “with one voice” is the prescription for intellectual paralysis and decay.

I’m not sure how they’ll “encourage” the media to stop sending mixed messages, but I’m pretty sure the last we thing we need is for the media to march even more in lockstep with the government’s nutrition guidelines. It’s good to be confused when you’re looking for answers. Believe me, I was confused when my low-fat and vegetarians diets didn’t produce results anything like I’d been promised. That confusion prompted me to keep investigating.

I’ve mentioned the wonderful book The Wisdom of Crowds before, but it’s worth stating the theme again here: the best answers rarely come from little groups of experts. You can empanel the 25 smartest people in the world, and they still don’t have as much accumulated knowledge and wisdom as any thousand people picked at random. That’s why the best answers usually come from somewhere out in the crowd — especially when people in the crowd start comparing notes.

Little groups of experts speaking with one voice told us to avoid animal fats and eat more grains. If we’ve done anything stupid in the past 30 years, it was listening to their advice. You can see the results on any public street. Let’s not do it again.

More in the next post.

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If you’re a ShowTime subscriber, I highly recommend you watch the latest episode of the Penn & Teller series Bull@#$%!   They already took on the obesity epidemic a season or two ago, and this time they took on the bias against fast food.  Here’s a clip:

 

It’s not my public style to call MeMe Roth a @#$%ing skinny-@$$ fat-hating snob who should just #$%@ off, but believe me, I’ve thought it plenty of times, and I laughed out loud hearing Penn just come out and say it. 

That bit of deliciousness aside, they also demonstrated how merely knowing that a meal came from a fast-food restaurant can influence the perception of how it tastes and how many calories it contains.  If anything, they proved what I pointed out in Fat Head:  people know fast food is high in calories.  They don’t need to be told, and they’re not  — despite what the @#$%ing skinny-@$$ fat-hating snob who should just #$%@ off believes — eating the stuff because they’re stupid.

Richard Nikoley wrote more about the episode and did some of his own fast-food analysis in his latest post at Free The Animal.

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I started reading the USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines this week.  For those of you who hoped the federal government would finally wise up and dump the high-carb/low-fat nonsense … come on, you didn’t really expect that, did you? 

Did you honestly believe the government would put together a panel of so-called experts who would announce that the government has been wrong for the past 40 years?  That the food pyramid was a disaster?  That billions of taxpayer dollars are subsidizing the same foods that are making us fat and diabetic?

Of course not.  The new guidelines are, if anything, a perfect example of something I’ve said in previous posts (which I believe I may have borrowed from Milton Friedman):  when a government program produces disastrous results, those results are offered as proof that we need to do the same thing again … only bigger!

That’s mostly what the new guidelines are:  the same old $#@%, only bigger.  Bigger reductions in saturated fat, bigger reductions in salt, bigger reductions in cholesterol, and of course (this is a government committee, after all) lots of “calls to action” … otherwise known as BIG federal programs to convince us poor fools in the public to finally start heeding their advice.

Yup, these folks know who’s spreading the polyunsaturated margarine on their whole-wheat bread.  Nothing pleases the high-ups in government quite like being told that the only way we’ll stop runaway diabetes and obesity is to expand the role of government.  It would never occur to these doofuses to wonder how our grandparents and great-grandparents managed to stay lean and (mostly) free of diabetes without a bunch of federal programs guiding their dietary choices.  I’m not sure how I would track this, but I’d be curious to see how many of the committee members, after telling the government exactly what it wanted to hear, end up with juicy government grants for their future research.

There are hundreds of pages (this is a government committee, after all), and I probably won’t read them all for fear of putting a fist through my monitor.  But so far, I’ve read the summary and several key sections … including the “methodology” section that explained how rigorously they collected, examined, and considered all the relevant science before writing their recommendations. 

That’s hogwash.  They cherry-picked the research.  I’ve already seen a dozen or  sentences that begin with “Studies show a moderate association between …” and end with a recommendation based on those moderate associations.  If you read this blog regularly, you know what I think of association studies. 

These people had their minds made up before they began.  I knew that would happen when the committee was populated with nothing but the same old anti-fat, anti-salt hysterics, even though some top-notch researchers who’ve studied the benefits of carbohydrate restriction were nominated. 

In a nutshell, here are the key conclusions:

  • We’re getting fatter because we eat too much and don’t exercise enough, so we need to eat less and exercise more.
  • Heart disease and Type II diabetes are caused by saturated fat, so the recommended intake of saturated fat should be reduced from 10% of total calories to 7%.
  • Cholesterol also causes heart disease, so the daily limit should be lowered from 300 mg to 200 mg for people at risk for heart disease or diabetes. 
  • Salt also causes heart disease by raising blood pressure, so we need to severely restrict our salt intake.
  • Carbohydrates are fabulous as long as they come from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and they’re essential for energy, so they should make up 45-65% of our diets.
  • We consume too much sugar and need to cut way back.  (Hey, they got one right!)

See anything new there?  Any shift in thinking?  Any recognition that our obesity and diabetes rates began going up around the same time we were told to go on lowfat diets?  Any indication that the committee, in their efforts to examine all the relevant science, read anything by Gary Taubes or Richard Feinman?  Any indication that they even examined the diets of Americans 100 years ago, when diabetes and heart disease were rare?

Nope. 

There’s far more nonsense in the official report than I can or should try to tackle in a single post, so I’ll keep reading and start writing posts on the topic next week.

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I finished my interview with Carl Lanore of Super Human Radio a few hours ago.  It was a pleasure.  I’ve done interviews in the past with radio hosts who aren’t knowledgeable about nutrition and obviously didn’t watch the film.  They just thought it was kind of cool that I lost weight eating fast food.

Carl, by contrast, is passionate about health and nutrition and can cite studies the way some people can cite sports statistics.  And it was clear when we spoke before the interview that he watched Fat Head.

I normally let a fever do its work, but in the interest of sounding coherent, I took an ibuprofen about an hour before the interview.  I didn’t feel fabulous, but I’m reasonably sure I answered the same questions Carl asked me. 

If you click the play button below, you can listen to the interview.

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