Interesting news from the past week or so …
Yet another “meat kills!” study
Dear nutrition researchers –
We get it, okay? Seriously, we get it. We know that you can conduct observational study after observational study and produce statistics showing that people who consume a lot of processed meat are more likely to get heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc., etc., etc. than people who don’t. If we took a survey, we’d probably find that more people know about that correlation than know the U.S. is 16 trillion dollars in debt. We’d probably also find that most people are more worried about processed meats than the ticking debt-bomb. So congratulations. You’ve done your job. You can stop now. Really. Please.
But of course, they won’t stop. They’ll keep producing essentially the same study over and over and over. The latest “meat kills!” study hit the news late last week. Here are some quotes from just one of the gazillion articles that appeared online.
Too much processed meat tied to premature death
Eating too much processed meat like bacon and sausage could increase the risk of premature death, a study of nearly half a million Europeans suggests.
The study of people in 10 European countries who were followed for an average of 13 years. In that time, there were about 26,000 deaths. People who consumed more than 160 grams of processed meat a day — about two sausages and a slice of bacon — were 44 per cent more likely to die over the course of the study compared with those eating about 20 grams.
“The results of our analysis support a moderate positive association between processed meat consumption and mortality, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases, but also to cancer,” Prof. Sabine Rohrmann from the University of Zurich and his co-authors concluded in this week’s issue of the journal BMC Medicine.
Blah, blah, blah.
I took a peek at the full study and was tempted to do a full analysis, but concluded I may as well just cut-and-paste from my posts on other “meat kills!” studies – because this is the same kind of crappy study as all the others. So here’s pretty much all you need to know:
- It’s an observational study and therefore essentially meaningless.
- The data is based on food-recall questionnaires, which are notoriously unreliable – and in this study, different questionnaires were used in different countries.
- The scary-sounding percentages (increases risk of death by 44%!) turn into small numbers when you look at the actual difference.
- The people who consumed a lot of processed meat had worse health habits overall: more likely to smoke, more likely to drink heavily, more likely to be overweight, less likely to eat vegetables, etc. In other words, we are (once again) looking at the differences between people who are health-conscious and people who aren’t. Since we’ve all been told for the past 40 years that bacon and sausage are bad for us, health-conscious people are more likely to avoid processed meats than I-don’t-give-a-@#$% people.
The researchers claimed they “teased out” the processed meat consumption specifically, but frankly, that’s not possible. They can adjust for factors included in their data, such as smoking and BMI, but there’s no way they gathered data on every variable that can affect health — such as the fact that people who eat processed meats typically eat them with a nice, big serving of white flour and probably a soda as well.
We eat less, but we’re fatter
So much for the belief that it’s all about the calories. According to a study that hit the news recently, we’re eating less, not more:
U.S. adults have been eating steadily fewer calories for almost a decade, despite the continued increase in obesity rates, according to survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Researchers, whose findings appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed trends since the 1970s and found that among adults, average daily energy intake rose by a total of 314 calories from 1971 to 2003, then fell by 74 calories between 2003 and 2010.
“It’s hard to reconcile what these data show, and what is happening with the prevalence of obesity,” said co-author William Dietz, former CDC director of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, to Reuters Health.
“Seventy-four calories is a lot, and as I said before, we would expect to see a measurable impact on obesity.”
Okay, this is interesting, but I have the same complaint here that I did with the first study: how do these researchers know exactly how many calories people are consuming? Unless the Department of Homeland Security has been spying on all of us and tracking every morsel we eat, I find it difficult to believe that they know for a fact that our calorie consumption has dropped by 74 calories.
That complaint aside, I could have predicted (and did) the reaction of the so-called experts. They of course believe our bodies are like simple engines that can only respond to a slight decrease in fuel by tapping the reserve tank. So as soon as I saw the headline, I knew the explanation for the calorie equation not working as advertised would be that we’re exercising less. Yup. Take a peek:
Experts said it’s possible more time is needed to see obesity rates respond to changes in calorie intake. It’s also possible that Americans have changed their eating habits but are still not getting enough exercise to burn the calories they do consume. Or, the surveys may simply be wrong.
It takes more than a decade for a reduction in calories to stop the rise in obesity rates? Seriously?
“If you cut back on calories by 100 calories, you’ll plateau 10 pounds (4.5 kg) lower,” but you’d only see about half of that progress over the first year, said Claire Wang, who studies energy intake and expenditure at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
No, if you’re hormonally driven to get fatter and you cut your intake by 100 calories per day, your body will just adjust your metabolism down to make up the difference. That’s why the “eat less and move more” advice fails over and over. It doesn’t address the root cause of the problem. If we are getting fatter while consuming the same or even slightly fewer calories, it’s a matter of what we’re eating, not how much.
Intermittent Fasting sweeps the U.K.
Now here’s a plan that might actually address the root cause of the hormonal drive to get fatter. A popular TV doctor in Britain has apparently created a frenzy for intermittent fasting:
Visitors to England right now, be warned. The big topic on people’s minds — from cabdrivers to corporate executives — is not Kate Middleton’s increasingly visible baby bump (though the craze does involve the size of one’s waistline), but rather a best-selling diet book that has sent the British into a fasting frenzy.
“The Fast Diet,” published in mid-January in Britain, could do the same in the United States if Americans eat it up. The United States edition arrived last week.
With an alluring cover line that reads, “Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, Live Longer,” the premise of this latest weight-loss regimen — or “slimming” as the British call “dieting” — is intermittent fasting, or what has become known here as the 5:2 diet: five days of eating and drinking whatever you want, dispersed with two days of fasting.
For the record, I would never recommend eating and drinking “whatever you want” on those other five days, but based on my own n=1 experiments, some intermittent fasting here and there does promote fat loss.
A typical fasting day consists of two meals of roughly 250 to 300 calories each, depending on the person’s sex (500 calories for women, 600 for men). Think two eggs and a slice of ham for breakfast, and a plate of steamed fish and vegetables for dinner.
It is not much sustenance, but the secret to weight loss, according to the book, is that even after just a few hours of fasting, the body begins to turn off the fat-storing mechanisms and turn on the fat-burning systems.
Not exactly the strictest form of fasting, but I can see why it would work. The doctor’s prescription for the (sort-of) fasting days is a low-carb, low-calorie diet. A clinical study conducted in Britain awhile back showed that going low-carb just two days per week spurred more weight loss than a calorie-restricted diet. Here’s a quote from an article about that study:
The researchers followed 88 women for four months. All the women were at high risk for breast cancer based on their family histories. One third of the women were put on a Mediterranean-type diet that restricted calories to about 1,500 per day. A second group was told to eat normally most of the time, but two days a week to cut carbs and also calories to about 650 on those two days. The third group was also to cut carbs two days a week, but there was no calorie restriction on those days.
At the end of four weeks women in both of the intermittent dieting groups had lost more weight — about 9 pounds — than the women who ate low calorie meals every day of the week — about 5 pounds.
Women in the intermittent dieting groups also had better improvement than daily dieters in the levels of hormones — insulin and leptin — that have been linked with breast cancer risk.
I haven’t read The Fast Diet (and probably won’t), but after reading the NY Times article last week, I’ve done the mini-fast three times (including yesterday), limiting myself to three or four eggs for breakfast and another three or four eggs for dinner. Easy peasy. I barely felt a stomach grumble. I don’t know if I lost any weight because I don’t own a scale. But if you’ve been afraid to try intermittent fasting because you can’t imagine going without food for a full day, this mini-fast method might be worth a shot.
Ketogenic diet promoted for treating cancer
I’m not religious, so I don’t follow the Christian media outlets, but I must say, the Christian Broadcasting Network seems way more open-minded on health topics than most of the mainstream media outlets. Readers have sent me links to CBN articles or videos on low-carb diets, on the benefits of vitamin D, etc.
This one goes back to December, but I just became aware of it: an article and video about how ketogenic diets may be useful for treating cancer.
Meats, eggs, coconut oil, a warning to avoid sugar and grains and margarine, plus an assurance that all that saturated fat will not, despite popular belief, cause heart disease. I love it.
Morgan Spurlock’s ex-wife now an ex-vegan
If you saw Super Size Me, you know Morgan Spurlock’s girlfriend at the time (later wife, later ex-wife) fed him a “purifying” vegan diet after his all-McDonald’s diet. (And it took him six months to lose 20 pounds on that diet.) She was known as a vegan chef for many years.
Now she’s had her own Lierre Keith moment and declared that she’s no longer a vegan. From her blog:
I thought many of the world’s problems could be solved if more people ate this way. We could end hunger if we fed grain to people instead of cattle. We could end global warming if we reduced the fertilizer, trucking and refrigeration required to produce meat. We could end the obesity epidemic.
What I ate aligned with what I believed. And that was that. But then, a few years ago, something began to shift.
My body started craving the “bad” stuff. Namely, meat.
It used to be that, when a friend ordered a burger out at dinner, I was slightly (though quietly) disgusted. But I started noticing a different reaction.
Instead of disgust, I started to salivate.
The impulse to order salmon instead of salad with tofu at my favorite restaurant was overwhelming. And, for me as a vegan, it was confusing, too.
At first, I thought: “I must be mineral deficient. Or maybe I need more concentrated protein. I’ll eat more sea vegetables. I’ll just add more nuts and hemp seeds and drink more green juice. Then the cravings will stop.”
I denied these cravings and tried to “talk my body out of them”.
It’s this part of her post that was bound to rile up the vegan zealots:
I began to see my cravings for animal foods from a different angle. It wasn’t immoral or wrong. It just was.
In fact, I came to believe that trusting your body, living your truth, whether it be vegan, part-time vegan, flexitarian or carnivore is all inherently good.
The reaction from the vegan zealots was predictable: she wasn’t it doing it right, ya see. (Really? A vegan advocate, chef and author wasn’t doing it right?) Or my favorite: she was never really a vegan, ya see.
One of the books Jamieson wrote was Vegan Cooking For Dummies. Given the reaction to her announcement, I’d say that title was more appropriate than she imagined at the time.