Archive for October, 2017

I didn’t write a post last night because the Cubs were in a do-or-die playoff game that ran late. But I did come across an interesting study that speaks volumes about The Anointed and their never-ending plans to (ahem) “help” the rest of us.

It’s been awhile since I’ve explained how The Anointed think and operate, so rather than link back to previous posts, let’s recap.

I borrowed the term The Anointed from author Thomas Sowell, who described them in great detail in his fabulous books Intellectuals and Society and The Vision of The Anointed. As Sowell explains, here’s the pattern we see with these people over and over:

1. The Anointed identify a problem in society. That problem is now The Bad.

2. The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem. The Grand Plan nearly always involves spending more of other people’s money and/or restricting more of other people’s freedoms.

3. Because they are so supremely confident in themselves and their ideas, The Anointed don’t believe they should be bothered with having to provide proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work. In fact, they often insist that because the problem is So Bad, we must adopt the Grand Plan RIGHT NOW.

4. Because the problem is The Bad, The Anointed assume their Grand Plan to fix the problem is The Good. Therefore anyone who opposes the Grand Plan isn’t simply opposing a plan; no, he or she is supporting The Bad and opposing The Good. The Anointed take this as proof that anyone who opposes the Grand Plan is either evil or stupid.

5. Because only evil or stupid people would oppose the Grand Plan, The Anointed feel entitled to impose the Grand Plan on others — for their own good, of course.

6. If the Grand Plan fails to solve the problem (which it usually the case) or makes it worse (which is often the case), The Anointed will never, ever, ever admit that the Grand Plan was wrong. Instead, they will insist that 1) the Grand Plan was good, but was undermined by people who are evil or stupid, or 2) the Grand Plan didn’t go far enough … which means we need to do the same thing again, ONLY BIGGER.

So with that in mind, let’s look at the abstract of a study (actually a meta-analysis) with the title A Meta-Analysis to Determine the Impact of Restaurant Menu Labeling on Calories and Nutrients (Ordered or Consumed) in U.S. Adults:

A systematic review and meta-analysis determined the effect of restaurant menu labeling on calories and nutrients chosen in laboratory and away-from-home settings in U.S. adults. Cochrane-based criteria adherent, peer-reviewed study designs conducted and published in the English language from 1950 to 2014 were collected in 2015, analyzed in 2016, and used to evaluate the effect of nutrition labeling on calories and nutrients ordered or consumed. Before and after menu labeling outcomes were used to determine weighted mean differences in calories, saturated fat, total fat, carbohydrate, and sodium ordered/consumed which were pooled across studies using random effects modeling. Stratified analysis for laboratory and away-from-home settings were also completed. Menu labeling resulted in no significant change in reported calories ordered/consumed in studies with full criteria adherence, nor the 14 studies analyzed with ≤1 unmet criteria, nor for change in total ordered carbohydrate, fat, and saturated fat (three studies) or ordered or consumed sodium (four studies). A significant reduction of 115.2 calories ordered/consumed in laboratory settings was determined when analyses were stratified by study setting. Menu labeling away-from-home did not result in change in quantity or quality, specifically for carbohydrates, total fat, saturated fat, or sodium, of calories consumed among U.S. adults.

In other words, the evidence from several studies demonstrates what common sense should have told The Anointed years ago: mandatory listings of calories and other nutrition information on restaurant menus don’t prompt people to eat less (except in a laboratory setting, which is meaningless.) In fact, nothing changes … total calories consumed, total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sodium, you name it. It’s almost as if when people go to restaurants, they order the foods they like, not the foods The Anointed want them to order.

It’s a perfect example of The Anointed in action.

The Anointed identify a problem in society.

The problem, of course, is the rise in obesity.

The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem. The Grand Plan nearly always involves confiscating and spending more of other people’s money and/or restricting more of other people’s freedoms.

Restaurant owners complained that being forced to have every food item on the menu tested for calorie and nutrition counts and then listing them on menus would cost a ton of money (much of which would passed on to consumers.) The Anointed, of course, didn’t care. Spending other people’s money is what they love to do.

Because they are so supremely confident in themselves and their ideas, The Anointed don’t believe they should be bothered with having to provide proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work.

There was never any evidence that forcing people to look at calorie counts would convince them to eat less. If The Anointed wanted to make a case for menu laws, they could have conducted some simple, inexpensive studies.  Put calorie counts on menus at a couple of restaurants and see if people ate less as a result.  But of course, The Anointed can’t be bothered with supplying evidence.  So the menu laws were rammed through.

I predicted back in 2009 that the menu laws The Guy From CSPI and others were demanding wouldn’t make any difference:

Here’s how the politicians and the nutrition-nannies believe those calorie-count menu boards will make us thinner:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “Oh my gosh! I had no idea there were so many calories in this meal! I’m going to order a Filet-O-Fish and a bottle of water.”
  • Fat Customer is satisfied with this low-calorie meal and, thanks to the menu board, begins eating low-calorie meals at restaurants from this point forward.
  • Fat Customer loses weight, as do millions of other fat customers. The obesity epidemic is solved. Rates of heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes plummet. Medicare expenditures drop by 50 percent.
  • Millions of formerly-obese citizens march on Washington to express their gratitude. Hallelujah, hallelujah! All praise the wise and wonderful politicians and Kelly Brownell and CSPI for saving us from our ignorance and gluttony!

This fantasy outcome was based on the belief that people are stupid. They go to restaurants, order high-calorie meals they somehow don’t recognize as high-calorie meals, get fatter, yet have no idea why. So by gosh, if we make them look at the calorie counts, they’ll finally realize what they’re doing wrong and eat less.

Nonsense. Here’s more of what I wrote in 2009:

Here’s an even more likely scenario:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “I don’t give a @#$%. I’m famished, and I want the Double Quarter Pounder value meal.”

The calorie-count menu laws were, of course, imposed on everyone by The Anointed — for their own good.

If the Grand Plan fails to solve the problem (which it usually the case) or makes it worse (which is often the case), The Anointed will never, ever, ever that admit the Grand Plan was wrong. Instead, they will insist that 1) the Grand Plan was good, but was undermined by people who are evil or stupid, or 2) the Grand Plan didn’t go far enough … which means we need to do the same thing again, ONLY BIGGER.

So how will The Anointed do the same thing again, only bigger? Actually, they already have. Originally, they wanted restaurants to post nutrition information where everyone could see it. The restaurants complied, but people didn’t eat less as a result. Faced with this failure, The Anointed of course didn’t conclude that the Grand Plan was based on faulty ideas.

No, instead they decided that people were too lazy and stupid to walk over and look at that big nutrition poster on the wall before ordering a meal. So by gosh, we need to put the information right on the restaurant menu, where people can’t possibly miss it.

As the recent study shows, that didn’t work either. So we wasted a lot of time, effort, and other people’s money on a Grand Plan that didn’t make a dent in the obesity problem.

You’d think The Anointed would give up at this point. Maybe, but I doubt it. I think it’s more likely they’ll wait for more favorable political conditions, then propose new regulations requiring every restaurant to employ an on-site nutritionist. If you dare to order a meal full of saturated fat and sodium, the nutritionist will be required to stride up to your table and lecture you on your bad choices.

Yeah, I know … that sounds crazy. But we’re talking about The Anointed here. They are often wrong, but never in doubt – and no matter how many times they fail to control what we want and what we do, they never, ever stop trying.

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As you’ve probably heard, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) recently gave the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee the spanking it deserves. Here are some quotes from an editorial in The Hill written by Rep. Andy Harris, who also happens to be a doctor:

The nation’s senior scientific body recently released a new report raising serious questions about the “scientific rigor” of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This report confirms what many in government have suspected for years and is the reason why Congress mandated this report in the first place: our nation’s top nutrition policy is not based on sound science.

In order to “develop a trustworthy DGA [guidelines],” states the report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), “the process needs to be redesigned.”

Among other things, the report finds that the guidelines process for reviewing the scientific evidence falls short of meeting the “best practices for conducting systematic reviews,” and advises that “methodological approaches and scientific rigor for evaluating the scientific evidence” need to “be strengthened.”

In other words, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are far from the “gold standard” of science and dietary advice they need to be. In fact, they may be doing little to improve our health at all.

Heh-heh-heh … remember what happened when Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, wrote a piece in the British Medical Journal criticizing the dietary guidelines as unscientific? Dr. David Katz (who reviewed his own novel under a false name and compared himself to Milton and Chaucer) dismissed her critique as “the opinion of one journalist.” The USDA’s report, he insisted, “is excellent, and represents both the weight of evidence, and global consensus among experts.”

Then for good measure, he and several other members of The Anointed tried to harass BMJ into retracting the article by Teicholz.

And now along comes the NASEM report, saying Teicholz was right. The “opinion of one journalist” (which of course was shared by countless doctors and researchers) is now the official opinion of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. You gotta love it. Perhaps Dr. Katz can write a rebuttal to the NASEM report, then review his rebuttal under a false name and compare himself to Albert Einstein.

Anyway, back to the editorial by Rep. Harris:

It seems clear that the lack of sound science has led to a number of dietary tenets that are not just mistaken, but even harmful – as a number of recent studies suggest.

For instance, the guidelines’ recommendation to eat “healthy whole grains” turns out not to be supported by any strong science, according to a recent study by the Cochrane Collaboration, a group specializing in scientific literature reviews. Looking at all the data from clinical trials, which is the most rigorous data available, the study concluded that there is “insufficient evidence” to show that whole grains reduced blood pressure or had any cardiovascular benefit.

So far, so good. Now for the part where I disagree a bit:

It is imperative that the advice championed by our national nutrition policy be unimpeachable. With the process for the 2020 guidelines soon to be underway, now is the time for the Congress to take action to reform the Dietary Guidelines development process so that proposed guidelines work as intended – as a tool to restore and protect our nation’s health.

I periodically receive requests to sign a petition to put this-or-that expert in charge of the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee. I always politely decline. Here’s who I think should be in charge of the nation’s dietary guidelines:

Nobody.

That’s right, nobody. We don’t need national dietary guidelines any more than we need national dog-grooming guidelines. People managed to figure out which foods were good for them long before the federal government got involved. In fact, it’s pretty obvious by now that the crowd wisdom handed down over the generations was vastly superior to the New & Improved! dietary advice concocted in Washington 40 years ago.

For reasons I can’t fathom, some people believe if you want a job done right, then by gosh, you need to put the feds in charge. Our history says otherwise. People don’t magically become smarter, wiser, or more ethical when they go to work for the federal government. They do, however, acquire the power to replace the diffused wisdom of crowds with the centralized decisions of the few. I don’t want a little group of experts in charge of dietary policy, even if they’re experts you and I respect.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in his terrific book Antifragile, centralized decision-making amplifies mistakes. If you empower one little group of experts to make decisions for everyone, their mistakes affect everyone.

That’s exactly what happened with our national dietary guidelines, which were imposed on schools, prisons, hospitals, the military, and pretty much every other institution run or funded by government. Worse yet, other countries adopted and imposed our dietary guidelines, apparently believing the people who wrote them had a flippin’ clue. Whoops.

Taleb points out that we rarely see big, disastrous governmental screw-ups in Switzerland. Why? Because there’s little centralized authority. Switzerland functions as a loose confederation of city-states that make most of their own decisions. If a city-state makes a bad decision, it doesn’t ripple through the entire country. The harm remains local. The other city-states see a plan that didn’t work and avoid it. On the other hand, if a city-state makes a very good decision, the other city-states see the happy result and adopt a similar plan.

That’s how the U.S. was originally intended to function as well. The states, not the federal government, were supposed to be the incubators of public policies. States and local governments can learn from each other’s successes and mistakes. When the feds make a mistake, what we usually learn is that while only death and taxes are forever, crappy federal departments and programs are so hard to kill, they may as well be immortal.

I’m glad the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine gave the USDA Dietary Committee the spanking it deserves. If the 2020 national dietary guidelines are based on rigorous science, that would certainly be an improvement.

But the best outcome would be if Congress decided, once and for all, that the rest of us don’t need the U.S. government telling us how to eat. There’s no good reason to have bureaucrats in Washington deciding what grade schools in Franklin, Tennessee are allowed to serve for lunch.

Low-carb, paleo, gluten-free, locally raised … they’re all grass-roots movements that are making a huge difference. Nobody’s in charge of them.  They weren’t designed by government committees – if anything, they were resisted by government committees, but thrived anyway because of the Wisdom of Crowds effect.

So instead of rooting for 2020 to be the year we finally get some real scientists on the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee, I’m hoping it’s the first year new dietary guidelines are scheduled to be released, but nobody bothers to write them.

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In some recent posts, I’ve mentioned the net carb counts of some foods I like. True Primal soup has 11 net carbs per serving, lentil pasta has 24 net carbs per two ounces, etc. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m aware that net carbs has become somewhat controversial, and that some low-carb gurus suggest counting all carbs, period.  I beg to differ.  I still think it makes sense to subtract fiber from the total carb count.

The concept of net carbs got a bad reputation because it was abused by the makers of low-carb junk foods. They’d put 25 grams of sugar alcohol in a dessert bar, then subtract those grams and claim 5 NET CARBS! on the label. Sugar alcohols raise glucose levels in many people, so yeah, I say go ahead and count them as carbs. (Better yet, just skip those food-like products altogether and eat real food.)

But I think it’s a mistake to count fiber as carbohydrate. If you are 1) restricting carbohydrates to VLC or ketogenic levels and 2) counting fiber grams as carbs, you’ll likely end up restricting your fiber intake to little or nothing. Bad idea.

Fiber got a Nyaaaa, who needs it? reputation in the low-carb community because the (ahem) “experts” told us we need to eat our hearthealthywholegrains! to make sure we get enough fiber. I’m pretty sure our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t start their day with bowls of All Bran, and yet the experts insisted we need grain fibers to avoid everything from heart disease to colon cancer. That of course turned out not to be true. Gary Taubes devoted an entire chapter in Good Calories, Bad Calories to the subject.

But grain fibers are the wrong kinds of fibers. As Dr. William Davis explains in this post, the fibers in hearthealthywholegrains! are mostly cellulose, a constituent of wood. Humans have no biological need to eat wood. Yes, those “whole grain” fibers promote regularity, but at a cost:

The poop-bulking effect of cellulose can fool you into thinking that you have achieved bowel health. In the case of wheat and grains, for instance, wheat germ agglutinin and gliadin peptide fragments are highly toxic to the intestinal wall, block gallbladder and pancreatic function, and induce alterations in bowel flora. Cellulose and phytates bind minerals, such as iron and zinc, and make them unavailable to you. But the cellulose provides the appearance of bulky stools despite the toxic damage incurred, causing you to believe that you’ve had a healthy BM.

We certainly don’t need cellulose fibers, which unfortunately led to the belief that we don’t need fiber at all. But we do, because plant fibers feed the good gut bacteria.

When we adopt a low-carb diet, what are our goals? What do we hope to achieve? To lose weight, sure, but also to keep our glucose levels under control and reap the benefits of short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. There’s plenty of research out there suggesting that plant fibers help us achieve both goals, including a study with the rather obvious title of Short-chain fatty acids produced by microbial fermentation of plant fibers improve glucose regulation.

If you’re onboard with the idea that mimicking the diets that kept our ancestors healthy is a good idea, then fibers should be part of your paleo or primal diet. Fossilized stool samples show that Paleo Man ate rather a lot of fiber from plant foods. Here are some quotes from another post by Dr. Davis:

Yes, consuming such fibers is evolutionarily appropriate, as it dates back well over 8000 generations of human existence, predating even the appearance of the Homo species, even predating carnivory, as it was practiced by pre-Homo hominids, Australopithecus (especially “robust” strains). It is therefore deeply instilled into the adaptive physiology of our species.

We evolved on diets that fed our good gut bateria. Here are some quotes from an article by Chris Kresser:

When we eat the soluble fibers found in whole plant foods, the bacteria in our gut ferment these fibers into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, proprionate, and acetate, and greater amounts of fiber consumed will lead to greater short-chain fatty acid production. In this case, naturally occurring soluble fibers are very important for feeding the friendly bacteria that live in our guts.

One of the risks of long term very low-carbohydrate (VLC) diets, in my view, is the potentially harmful effect they can have on beneficial gut flora. VLC diets starve both bad and good gut bacteria, which means these diets can have therapeutic effects on gut infections in the short term, but may actually contribute to insufficiency of beneficial strains of gut bacteria over the long term. Providing adequate levels of carbohydrate and soluble fiber to feed friendly bacteria is important for optimizing digestive health and maintaining the integrity of the gut lining through the production of short-chain fatty acids.

I don’t count fiber grams as carbs because in my experience, fiber doesn’t raise blood sugar at all. If anything, it seems to blunt the effects of non-fiber carbs. As I’ve mentioned, if I include three ounces of lentil pasta in a meal, I’m getting 36 net carbs. But my blood sugar only rises to 125 or so, probably because of the 10-12 grams of soluble fiber in the pasta.

If you’re not convinced, then I’d suggest conducting a few n=1 experiments. Get out the glucose meter and see how you react to carbs that are high in soluble fibers vs. non-fiber carbs.

Even if you decide to forget the net carb concept entirely and count all carbs, please make sure you get some beneficial fibers into your diet. I know I just posted this video back in August, but it’s worth another look. Here’s Dr. Davis on why you don’t want to skip beneficial fibers on a low-carb or ketogenic diet:

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