Archive for January, 2017

Interesting items from my inbox and elsewhere …

Let’s not rush in to regulate sugar.

I was already a fan of Nina Teicholz because of her book The Big Fat Surprise and her critique of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines that appeared in the British Medical Journal (which upset The Anointed very, very much).  I gained even more respect for her after reading a recent piece in The Atlantic titled The Limits of Sugar Guidelines: Is there a danger in governments offering too-specific advice on sugar consumption?

I’d recommend reading the entire article, but here’s the gist of it: Yes, many of us now believe sugar is the main driver of obesity and other metabolic diseases.  But let’s not jump the gun on imposing new guidelines and regulations.  We’ve made that mistake before.

Here are some quotes:

While the evidence to date shows zero benefit from sugar and a clear signal of harm, there hasn’t been enough time to fund and conduct definitive trials. Meanwhile, governments naturally feel they can’t wait. Facing panic over the continued, relentless climb in obesity and diabetes rates with no solution in sight, they’ve gone ahead and passed sugar guidelines pinned to exact thresholds, of 10 percent or 5 percent of calories. This advice is clearly well-intentioned. Yet if, as the Annals paper concludes, experts are skirting scientific norms by passing guidelines based on weak evidence, the whole process of guideline-making is effectively watered down.

Government officials, of course, are driven by a belief that no problem will ever be solved unless they by gosh DO SOMETHING!  It’s the old problem of when you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  Government’s hammer is regulation.  More government officials should heed the advice Lee Marvin’s first acting teacher gave him: don’t just do something, stand there.

As Americans well know, there have been many reversals in our guidelines in recent years—on dietary cholesterol, on total fat, on whether to eat breakfast to maintain a healthy weight. These were all official guidelines based on weak evidence that, when actually tested in clinical trials, were found to be unjustified. It turned out that people had been avoiding egg yolks, lobster, and fat, generally, to no avail, and that skipping breakfast altogether might actually be the best option for weight loss.

Instances of flip-flopping on nutritional advice not only erode the public trust, but make people think that the basic science itself is flawed—which, for the most part, it’s not. Instead, the central problem has been that experts and policy makers have passed judgment before that good science was done. And once a judgment is codified as policy, it’s hard to repeal. This was the case, for instance, with the low-fat diet, which although adopted as a U.S. guideline in 1980, wasn’t actually studied in trials for another decade-plus. This kind of mistake, at its very worst, is potentially deadly: Indeed, the low-fat advice, by shifting consumption to carbohydrates such as grains and sugar, is now regarded as a probable cause of the obesity and diabetes epidemics.

I’d bet dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) Teicholz believes sugar is driving obesity and diabetes.  So it takes integrity to urge waiting for solid proof before taking action.

Of course, taking action doesn’t always work so well anyway …

Soda Taxes failing to reduce consumption.

Here are some quotes from a Reason magazine online article:

If 15 major cities adopt a sugary drink tax of just 1 cent per ounce, diabetes could be slashed, more than 100,000 cases of obesity prevented and 3,683 deaths averted according to a new report from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The report claims extraordinary health benefits for close to zero cost except that of administering the tax. So just how do the eminent researchers at Harvard find so many health-related benefits from just a 1 cent per ounce tax?

The answer is what Healthy Food America, who asked the researchers to conduct the study, call an “evidence-based, peer-reviewed computer model.” Unfortunately for soda tax advocates, the model collides head-on with the cold hard reality that there is not yet a single real world example of a soda or sugar tax reducing obesity.

Mexico, which was hailed by public health activists and the editorial pages of The New York Times as an example to follow, has so far proved a huge disappointment to anti-obesity campaigners.

Mexico slapped a 1 peso per liter tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in 2013, with health benefits promised to follow. The tax took effect in 2014 and after an initial decline in the average purchases of taxed sugary beverages of six percent, sales are on now on the up again.

The article goes on to cite examples of the same cycle: a tax on sugar is imposed, consumption dips for a bit, then goes back up.  According to classical economic theory, we’d expect a higher price to mean lower sales.  So why doesn’t it work that way with sugar?

Because as books like Predictably Irrational explain, classical economic theory assumes people are rational — and they usually are when making decisions like which insurance policy or TV to buy.  But when it comes to things that tickle our reward centers — sex, drugs, and perhaps rock ‘n’ roll – dopamine overrides rational thinking.  People feed their addictions even when it makes no economic sense.  That means the people who are most likely to overindulge are also the least likely to be discouraged by sin taxes.

Not only did the tax have close to zero impact on calorie consumption, but those homes with an obese head of the household were actually the least likely to cut back on soda.

I suspect many of The Anointed in government know soda taxes don’t actually change behavior.  But I suspect they also know this:

The one area the tax has achieved its goal is in the area of revenue. The Mexican government raked in more than $2 billion in soda taxes from January 2014. But since soda taxes hit those with the lowest incomes hardest, one would think this is hardly something to celebrate.

“There is no real world evidence that they have the slightest effect on calorie consumption, let alone obesity. They are stealth taxes which allow governments to pick the pockets of the poor,” says Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

But sometimes the taxes aren’t so stealthy.  Case in point …

Philly mayor outraged by basic laws of economics.

Some quotes from another Reason magazine article online:

After driving up the cost of soda and other sugary drinks with a new tax, the mayor of Philadelphia is now trying to blame businesses for charging higher prices (and for the outrage those prices have generated).

Mayor Jim Kenney, who proposed the soda tax and championed its passage through city council last year, told reporters on Tuesday it’s not the new 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax that’s making it more expensive to buy a can of Coke in Philly. No, according to the mayor, those higher prices are caused by city businesses price gouging their customers in order to stir up opposition to the tax.

Note to Mayor Kenney: buy a book on basic economics and read it.  Or perhaps just be honest with the public.  I know it’s popular among politicians to promise people goodies and insist those bad old business will pay the bill, but that’s not how it works in the real world.  Businesses pass the bill along to their customers in the form of higher prices.  Here’s why:

Newswork’s Katie Colaneri visited Carbonator Rental Services in Philadelphia to break down the math.

The distributors sells five-gallon boxes of syrup that can be used in soda fountains, and each box costs a retailer about $60. Thanks to the city’s new tax, though, retailers have to pay $57.60 in taxes for each of those boxes of syrup.

“We’re not talking about a couple of bucks on a $60 item,” Andy Pincus, who owns Carbonator Rental Services, told Newsworks. “We’re talking about $57.60 on a $60 item. It’s too big not to pass on.”

Pincus says he can’t absorb the tax because he makes less than $20 in gross profit—the difference between how much he paid for the box of syrup and how much he sells it for—on each box. Out of that money, he has to pay all his employees, buy gas for delivery trucks, and cover all the other costs of doing business. So, he increased the price he charges to retailers buying syrup from his business. Those retailers, who are operating under similarly small margins, are doing the same thing and increasing prices charged to consumers.

This is why I hate observational studies.

Over the years, we’ve been told all kinds of foods might be the key to a longer life. Now chili peppers – yes, chili peppers – might join the list.  Here are some quotes from an article titled Eat hot peppers for a longer life?

Like spicy food? If so, you might live longer, say researchers at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, who found that consumption of hot red chili peppers is associated with a 13 percent reduction in total mortality — primarily in deaths due to heart disease or stroke — in a large prospective study.

If so, you might live longer, say researchersHead. Bang. On. Desk.

Did the researchers conduct a carefully controlled, long-term study in which eating chili peppers was the only variable?  Of course not.

Using National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III data collected from more than 16,000 Americans who were followed for up to 23 years, medical student Mustafa Chopan ’17 and Professor of Medicine Benjamin Littenberg, M.D., examined the baseline characteristics of the participants according to hot red chili pepper consumption. They found that consumers of hot red chili peppers tended to be “younger, male, white, Mexican-American, married, and to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and consume more vegetables and meats . . . had lower HDL-cholesterol, lower income, and less education,” in comparison to participants who did not consume red chili peppers. They examined data from a median follow-up of 18.9 years and observed the number of deaths and then analyzed specific causes of death.

“Although the mechanism by which peppers could delay mortality is far from certain, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels, which are primary receptors for pungent agents such as capsaicin (the principal component in chili peppers), may in part be responsible for the observed relationship,” say the study authors.

No, I’ll explain the mechanism:  First, highly unreliable data on what people eat was gathered.  Then it was compared to medical records.  Then, as chance would have it, the researchers found a meaningless association between chili peppers and mortality.  Then they high-fived each other and ran off to write up the study results.  Then they probably proposed doing further research.   In fact, I’m sure they did.

“Because our study adds to the generalizability of previous findings, chili pepper — or even spicy food — consumption may become a dietary recommendation and/or fuel further research in the form of clinical trials,” says Chopan.

I’m reminded of the tongue-in-cheek paper Dr. John Ioannidis wrote in which he demonstrated that 80% of the ingredients in a common recipe book have been linked to higher rates of cancer.  Or lower rates of cancer.  Or both.  It just depends on which observational study you dig up.

And that’s the state of nutrition science.

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Hey Fat Heads,

Happy New Year!

Thought I’d sneak into the Big Chair for a couple of quick items.

The big news is that the Fat Head Kids book is getting close enough that Tom sent a script to The Middle Son and The Youngest Son so they can start prepping to help with voice work for the DVD version. He included a preview copy of the book so they can relate to what they’ll be voice acting.

Naturally, I had to sneak a peek and I can say that it’s more than worth the wait. Just terrific.

In my completely unbiased opinion, of course.

Next, this isn’t in the breaking news category, but I thought my fellow Fat Heads might enjoy it. We’ve got a good-natured banter going with The Youngest Son’s fiancée about what grandson 2 will be eating as he starts the move from formula to people food. (This guy:)

I keep saying he’s going to be eating only eggs, chicken livers and steak (with some lard and bacon fat) before he’s one; future DIL threatens to feed him tofu.

Anyway, after being impressed with Jason Fung’s Obesity Code and his follow up book (with Jimmy Moore) The Complete Guide to Fasting, I got interested in fasting, especially after my annual Thanksgiving through New Year’s gluttony. I’ve done a couple of 24-hour fasts, a 36-hour last week, and am 36 hours into a two-day (maybe 60 hours) fast right now.

So last night, I was putting a coffee mug in the microwave, prompting the following:

DIL:   What’s that – are you having some tea?

Older Brother:   No, I’m having a cup of beef broth.

Youngest Son (to DIL):   See that? – even Dad’s water has meat in it!

Cheers!

The Older Brother

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Well, it was certainly fun to point out all the processed carbage sporting health claims like 100% WHOLE GRAINS on the package.  But now let’s turn to the flipside:  more evidence that people are ignoring the arterycloggingsaturatedfat! and healthywholegrains! nonsense promoted by The Anointed at the USDA, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, etc.

First, let’s take a trip to the grocery store … not a Whole Foods, but a local Kroger.  As I’ve mentioned before, Kroger introduced a line of minimally processed foods under the brand name Simple Truth.  Here’s what Fortune magazine had to say about the brand’s success:

Shoppers are still shopping, but they’re often turning to brands they believe can give them less of the ingredients they don’t want—and for the first time, they can find them in their local Safeway, Wegmans, or Wal-Mart. Kroger’s Simple Truth line of natural food grew to an astonishing $1.2 billion in annual sales in just two years.

Our local Kroger also proudly displays big posters telling us where they get their produce:

I’ve mentioned the Boulder Canyon line of chips, which contains just three ingredients:  potatoes, sea salt, and a natural oil:

A reader emailed some pictures of other foods he found at his local grocery store.  I went and found the same foods at Kroger:

Who the heck would have bought riced or mashed cauliflower 20 years ago?  Now Kroger is obviously catering to people who want convenience, but also want to reduce their starch intake.

I also found several flavors of stevia-sweetened soft drinks at Kroger:

The folks who make Zevia sodas don’t use any artificial ingredients, so those colas are clear as water.  I guess the color of Coca-Cola isn’t natural.

So the food choices I’m seeing at grocery stores are evidence enough that the times, they are a-changing.  But a couple of recent media articles also drive home the point.  Here are some quotes from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle titled Fats find favor on U.S. tables again:

In recent years, many prominent scientists, journalists and diet gurus have been sounding the alarm that our decades-long obsession with choosing carbs over fat is only making America more unhealthy, and that the government has overplayed the role of dietary fat in heart disease and obesity, among other chronic illnesses. Like almost everything in nutrition science, the issues are far from settled, but the new ideas about fat are taking root in grocery shopping.

Petaluma dairy producer Clover Stornetta Farms saw that trend play out in sales of organic full-fat milk, yogurt and other dairy products, which saw double-digit increases in 2015 and 2016. Because organic products are typically bought by more health-conscious shoppers, the attraction to these products is probably due to the fact that they are less processed, director of marketing Kristel Corson says.

Yeah, maybe.  But I think it’s also because health-conscious shoppers have gotten the message that arterycloggingsaturatedfat! and other pearls of dietary wisdom from The Anointed in government are nonsense.  To underscore that point, here are some quotes from a Mintel.com article on consumer attitudes about food quality and health:

Today’s health-conscious consumers are staying away from products containing high-fructose corn syrup (50 percent), sugar (47 percent), trans fat (45 percent) and saturated fat (43 percent). What’s more, over one quarter (28 percent) believe a food is unhealthy if it has artificial ingredients, with consumers actively avoiding products with elements described as “artificial,” such as artificial sweeteners (43 percent), artificial preservatives (38 percent) and artificial flavors (35 percent).

Okay, you probably noticed the bad news within the good news: 43 percent of health-conscious consumers still believe saturated fat is bad for them.  But that’s less than half.  I’d bet dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) that 30 years ago, closer to 90 percent of health-conscious consumers would say they avoid saturated fats.

And now for the really good news.  As I’ve been saying ever since Fat Head was released, my goal isn’t to convince the USDA to change its advice. My goal is to convince people to stop listening to them.  So check out this quote:

What’s more, a mere one quarter (23 percent) of consumers agree that the US Dietary Guidelines are good for them.

I’m not religious, but that quote makes me want to jump up and down and shout HALLELUJHA!!

We’re winning.  Better yet, The Anointed are losing.

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Actually, it’s two brief progress reports.

After some initial feedback from our local expert on books for kids (our daughter Sara), Chareva and I put the book through another round of edits.  Chareva altered some graphics Sara thought might be a bit confusing, and I rewrote some sections to explain the same concepts in fewer or simpler words.  That’s why I haven’t written a post in nearly two weeks.

I’m pretty sure the book is about 95% ready at this point, but we still have to create the copyright page, the table of contents page, etc.

As I mentioned in my first post of the year, I managed to gain 12 pounds during the holiday season, thanks largely to indulging in too much good booze.  I weighed myself at the gym today (we don’t have a scale at home), and I’m happy to report five of those pounds are now gone.  I just had to get back to doing what I know works for me.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Millions of people swear every January they’re going to improve their health. I’ve assumed for years that achieving that goal requires paying careful attention to what we eat.

Apparently I was wrong about that. Turns out countless processed foods are actually good for you. I learned that glancing at a bunch of labels and packages recently in the cafeteria at the building where I work.

I usually bring lunch from home or skip eating lunch entirely, so it’s been years since I took a good look at what’s on the shelves.  Imagine my surprise when I saw healthy offerings like this:

Whodathunkit? Swiss Miss hot chocolate is actually good for you! After all, it provides as much calcium as an 8-ounce glass milk! And if we turn that package over …

… we see the calcium comes with sugar, corn syrup (in case the sugar isn’t sweet enough), and hydrogenated coconut oil. Small price to pay for the health benefits of all that calcium.

Moving along, I found chips that contain 30% Less Fat or even 65% Less Fat than the leading Potato Chips – and as we know, anything lower in fat will make you healthy.

Here are the healthy ingredients in those Oven-Baked Lays:

Awesome. Corn oil, corn starch, sugar and soybean oil. Good thing they contain 65% less fat than regular potato chips, or I’d almost wonder if they’re good for us after all.

Of course, as the overlords at the USDA have been reminding us for years, one of the keys to better health is to eat more whole grains. I found several foods that fit that bill, such as these Veggie Wheat Thins that provide 100% WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT.

And here are the ingredients:

Wheat flour, canola oil, sugar and cornstarch. So they’re not just low in fat; the bit of fat they do contain comes from heart-healthy canola oil! Man, if we all could develop the discipline to live on foods like this, the nation’s health bill would plummet.

If you prefer breakfast foods while eating more whole grains to improve your health, Raisin Bran is a Good Source of FIBER & Made with WHOLE GRAIN.

Best of all, there are only 68 carbs in that little serving of whole-grain goodness.

Froot Loops are also good for you because, as you can see, they provide WHOLE GRAIN 14 g or more per serving.

With all that whole-grain goodness, it probably doesn’t matter that the primary ingredient is sugar. Grab the skim milk, pour it on that whole-grain cereal, and let’s get healthy!

But wait .. what if we don’t have any skim milk? No problem. Kellogg’s makes a healthy cereal bar. I know it’s healthy because Nutri and Grain are both in the name.

And as you can see, there are only 12 grams of sugar and a whopping two grams of protein in one of these nutrition-packed powerhouses.

There’s also a wee bit of fruit. And since fruit in any form is good for us, I was totally jazzed to find these Fruit Medleys, which are Made With REAL FRUIT JUICE and have Colors From Natural Sources. Boy, that’s got to be good for you.

I even found the REAL FRUIT JUICE in the list of ingredients, right after corn syrup and sugar.

Fruit juice is great, but if you want to get really healthy, you need some whole fruit. Luckily, I found these Pop-Tarts, which are Baked with Real Fruit!

Along with the real fruit that’s baked in, you can power up with some wheat flour, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, sugar, and modified food starch. The real fruit that’s baked in is listed down there in the contains less than 10% or less section … but it’s real fruit, so it’s got to be good for you.

So there you have it. Accomplishing your New Year’s goal of becoming healthier has never been easier. Just grab some Froot Loops or Pop-Tarts for breakfast, and you’ll put some real fruit or those all-important whole grains into your body. If you feel like a snack a few hours later (a near-certainty if you eat cereal or pasty for breakfast), you can grab some Wheat Thins for a dose of 100% Whole Grain Wheat. Then wash ‘em down with a yummy cup of Swiss Miss hot chocolate, and you’ll strengthen your bones with as much calcium as an 8-ouce glass of milk.

With all these healthy choices sitting on the shelves in grocery stores and cafeterias all over America, I predict the nation’s diabetes crisis will soon be nothing but a bad memory.

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Yup, it’s that time again.  I went to the gym on Wednesday for the first time in three weeks, and it was swamped.  The treadmills are especially popular in January, as people attempt to walk their way towards whatever weight-loss number they chose as a New Year’s resolution.  It happens every January, then by around April or so, the gym population is back to normal.

I’ve also noticed the usual shift in lunch choices around the office.  Several women have been dutifully putting their Weight Watchers Smart Ones into the microwaves, then dutifully pretending to enjoy the pasta with fat-free sauce.   I saw one woman eat a Smart Ones meal, then chase it with a small bag of fat-free popcorn.  Good luck with that.

For the first time in years, I’ll be joining the ranks of people starting the new year with a determination to lose weight.  As to why, I’ll give the short version first:  I gained 12 pounds in three weeks.

Now for the longer version:  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the food.  Yeah, I enjoyed stuffing and potatoes and pumpkin pie on Christmas and the day after, but that’s par for the course.  Same goes for the pizza on New Year’s.

The big difference this year was booze consumption.  I just flat-out overdid it.  After months of being in near-constant work mode (the programming job, the book, the blog, etc.), I gave myself permission to be a slug over the holidays.  I binge-watched some Amazon and Netflix series I’ve wanted to see, often staying up until 2 or 3 AM to do so, and indulging in good beer, good wine, or good single-malt scotch for the entire viewing session.

Alcohol, of course, is remarkably efficient at shutting down fat-burning.  The liver also turns the stuff into fat if it’s not burned away … and I’m pretty sure I didn’t burn it away while sitting in my easy chair and watching four episodes of Mr. Robot in a row.

So I knew I’d gain some weight, but waved the thought away with yeah-yeah-yeah, I’m going to enjoy this holiday break, then worry about that later.  Even so, I have to admit I was a wee bit surprised when I stepped on the gym scale for the first time since mid-December.

Twelve pounds?!  Seriously?!

Yes, seriously.  It’s a reminder of how easily I can gain weight if I don’t watch what goes down the hatch.

But here’s the difference between my resolution now and the resolutions I made in my thirties and forties:  I know what to do, I know it will work, and I know it won’t be unpleasant.  No little bowls of Grape-Nuts with skim milk for breakfast, no Slim-Fast shakes instead of meals, no dry toast, no rice cakes, no Smart Ones low-fat meals, and no trying to ignore gnawing hunger while waiting for the next calorie-restricted, tasteless meal.  I just have to get back to what I was doing before:  regular workouts and high-protein, low-carb meals.  Sausage and eggs, here I come.

I also know not to set an arbitrary goal, such as I’m going to lose 30 pounds by March!  That’s how people set themselves up for failure.  The way to lose weight is to stick to a diet that enables weight loss, then let the number on the scale take care of itself.

While I was binge-watching and scotch-drinking myself into needing to loosen my belt, Chareva was banging away on the book, trying to beat a Christmas deadline for finishing all the drawings and page layouts.  She missed the deadline by a few days, and apologized for being tardy.

I told her I’d briefly considered filing for divorce, but thought better of it.  We set the Christmas deadline as a motivator, and she was clearly motivated.   We’ve gone over the book page-by-page several times, and I have to say, I’m delighted.  Her drawings are the perfect complement to the text.  Now we’ll get preview copies out to a few people and go from there.

There’s plenty more to do – such as the film version — but I’m expecting good things to come of this project, which means I’m already jazzed about 2017, even with the extra pounds to lose.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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