While I was on the cruise, this YouTube video made a splash. It was hailed as the death of the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis. Take a look:
Several readers emailed to ask what I thought, and I replied that since I hadn’t seen the study itself, I had no opinion yet … although little alarm bells went off in my head when I saw that the researcher being interviewed was Kevin Hall. If the name sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because he was the lead researcher on a recent study that was reported in the media with headlines like FOR FAT LOSS, LOW-FAT DIETS BEAT LOW-CARB DIETS HANDILY, NEW RESEARCH FINDS.
I wrote about that study in this post. The (ahem) low-carb diet provided 140 grams of carbohydrate per day – including 37 grams per day of sugar. Yeah, just like Dr. Atkins recommended. The low-fat diet, meanwhile, was truly a low-fat diet: just 7.7 percent of calories from fat.
Hall responded to that criticism by saying he had to choose a moderate-carb diet to keep protein constant across both diets. Several readers responded to that response by producing (within minutes) two low-calorie diet plans, one very low-fat, one very-low carb, both with identical protein. So Hall’s explanation doesn’t hold up.
The diets lasted a whopping six days each (everyone in the study was supposed to do both diets), and the difference in weight loss was a non-significant one-tenth of one pound.
In the full paper, I saw that 19 people completed the sort-of-low-carb diet, but only 17 completed the low-fat diet … and yet the researchers didn’t restrict their comparison to the 17 people who completed both diets, and didn’t provide individual data for any of the dieters. And the paper included this strange paragraph:
The data were analyzed using a repeated-measures mixed model controlling for sex and order effects and are presented as least-squares mean ± SEM. The p values refer to the diet effects and were not corrected for multiple comparisons. One female subject had changes in DXA % body fat data that were not physiological and were clear outliers, so these data were excluded from the analyses.
My impression was that Hall designed the “low fat beats low carb handily” study to get the results he wanted — perhaps assisted by tossing out a data point or two. Clear outliers, ya know.
Those complaints about his earlier study notwithstanding, if a study is conducted and analyzed honestly, then the data is what the data is. Like I said, I haven’t seen the study he’s explaining in the video. But Dr. Mike Eades took a careful look at the video, screen-capping some of the charts so he could analyze them, and also dug up the abstract. I’d suggest you read his entire post, but here’s the first punchline:
In the video, Hall declares that the study shows there’s no metabolic advantage to a ketogenic diet. Got that? No metabolic advantage. But the title of the abstract is … wait for it … Energy Expenditure Increases Following An Isocaloric Ketogenic Diet in Overweight And Obese Men. And a sentence in the abstract clearly states:
Therefore, an isocaloric ketogenic diet was associated with increased energy expenditure of ~100 kcal/d.
Perhaps it depends on your definition of “advantage,” but that sounds like an advantage to me.
After watching the video and reading Dr. Eades’ post, here’s my opinion of the study: I don’t really care either way. As Paul Jaminet pointed out during a podcast, there are more than a million diet studies in PubMed. You can find almost any result you want. I’ve seen studies in which a lower-carb diet led to more weight loss, even on the same number of calories. This one, for example:
On the 1,800-kcal reduction diet consumed over a 9-week period, diet A contained 104 g carbohydrate/day; diet B, 60 g; diet C, 30 g. The three-man subgroups were matched as closely as possible on the basis of maintenance caloric requirement and percent body weight as fat.
Weight loss, fat loss, and percent weight loss as fat appeared to be inversely related to the level of carbohydrate in the isocaloric, isoprotein diets. No adequate explanation can be given for weight loss differences.
But I’ve also seen studies in which restricting calories led to the same average weight loss whether the diet was low-fat or low-carb. And I suppose if someone did enough digging, he could find a metabolic ward study where people lost more weight on a high-carb diet than a low-carb diet.
Again, I don’t really care. People don’t live in metabolic wards where their food intake is carefully controlled. They live in the real world. And in the real world, people respond to their appetites. For many people, myself included, switching to a low-carb diet resulted in (after years of frustration) losing weight without going hungry.
AHA! THAT MEANS YOU CONSUMED FEWER CALORIES THAN YOU BURNED!
Of course I consumed fewer calories than I burned, you @#$%ing moron! That is always HOW we lose weight. And consuming more calories than we burn is always HOW we gain weight. But as I’ve said many times (and will keep saying until I’m blue in face), HOW we get fat isn’t the same as WHY we get fat.
I tried explaining the difference in this post by pointing out that HOW your toilet overflows (more water entering the bowl than draining out) isn’t the same as WHY your toilet overflows (a clog in the drain pipe). But toilets don’t have appetites, so let’s use (or re-use) a different analogy:
Suppose I have a rather serious alcohol problem that’s affecting my life, and not in a good way. After getting a snootful, I tend to become annoyed by friends and acquaintances who haven’t fully recognized my superior understanding of all things and thus have the gall to disagree with me now and then. So I get in touch to correct their erroneous beliefs and offer strongly-worded advice on how they should fix their lives, careers, diets, social media sites, professional relationships, or whatever – for their own good, of course. As a result, my friendships soon have the life expectancy of a second lieutenant on Iwo Jima.
Waking up with a hangover one afternoon and recognizing the problem may actually be with me instead of everyone else, I vow to limit my drinking to two scotches per day from now on. But no matter how sincere the promise, one drink always leads to another and another and another. Next thing I know, I’m getting punched by strangers in bars for reasons I can’t accurately recall. I curse my lack of discipline and wonder what the @#$% is wrong with me. I really, really, really want to drink less but can’t seem to do it. So I turn to science.
“Why do I drink so @#$%ing much?” I ask the science world.
“Because you’re an alcoholic,” the researchers answer.
“But WHY am I an alcoholic?” I ask.
“Because you drink too much,” the researchers answer.
See the problem? The amount of alcohol I consume only explains HOW I get drunk. It doesn’t explain WHY I get drunk. Because you drink too much isn’t an answer; it’s simply a restatement of the problem.
But now let’s suppose something amazing happens. After making significant changes in my diet, I find my urge to drink has dwindled. I can go out on Saturday night and have two glasses of wine with dinner, then stop. That craving for a third, fourth and tenth drink just isn’t there anymore. (Long-time readers may recognize that this is partly a true story.) It’s not a character issue, because I’m not resisting an urge. The urge is gone.
“Why don’t I get rip-roaring drunk every time I drink like I used to?” I ask the science world.
“Because you don’t drink as much as before,” the researchers answer.
“But I used to have this powerful urge to keep drinking, and now I don’t. So it must have something to do with biochemical changes brought on by the new diet.”
“No, no, no,” the researchers reply. “We’ve done studies on this. If we get 20 people drunk for a week by having them knock back 10 scotches per day, then lock them all in a cell and give them two drinks per day for another week, they’re all equally sober at the end of the second week. Doesn’t matter if they’re alcoholics or not, and it doesn’t matter if we feed them chips or cheese while they’re drinking. So obviously the cause of alcoholism is drinking too much, and the cure is to drink less. It’s simple.”
That two-drink-per-day study may exist, and it may have been honestly conducted and analyzed. But I don’t care. It doesn’t tell me diddly about WHY alcoholics drink too much. It also doesn’t explain WHY a change in diet caused my appetite for alcohol to shrink. Everyone remains equally sober on two drinks per day isn’t useful information for a problem drinker trying to walk past an open bar.
Several studies, including this one, have demonstrated that switching to a low-carb diet causes many people to eat less – even though they’re not counting calories or trying to eat less:
On the low-carbohydrate diet, mean energy intake decreased from 3111 kcal/d to 2164 kcal/d. The mean energy deficit of 1027 kcal/d (median, 737 kcal/d) completely accounted for the weight loss of 1.65 kg in 14 days.
If you spontaneously cut your calories by more than 1,000 per day – and yes, end up consuming fewer calories than you burn as a result – then something very positive has happened to your metabolism. But I don’t think it’s quite as simple and direct as Fewer Carbs => Less Insulin => More Fat Burning. Or to state it in reverse, I don’t think getting fat is as simple as More Carbs => More Insulin => More Fat Storage.
This is already getting to be a long post, so I’ll explain why I believe the “alternative hypothesis” needs some revising in my next post.
Two items to get out of the way before moving on to the cruise report:
First, a big thanks to The Older Brother for taking over the Fat Head chair while I was gone. Today happens to be his 59th birthday, so wish him a good one and 50 more.
I recall a conversation we had a few years ago as our dad was fading from Alzheimer’s. The Older Brother pointed out that our great-grandfather (who lived to be 101) was sharp until around age 98. Our grandmother began fading mentally in her 80s, and in retrospect it was clear Dad began fading in his 60s. Noting the pattern, The Older Brother said (to paraphrase in polite terms), “We’re screwed.”
I disagreed and pointed out that researchers were beginning to describe Alzheimer’s as type III diabetes. The reason each succeeding generation in our family succumbed at an earlier age was that each generation began eating a crap diet at an earlier age — thanks to arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria and hearthealthywholegrains! nonsense. This isn’t some biological destiny we can’t escape, I said. We just have to ditch the processed carbs and industrial oils and get back to eating real food. Then we’ll be the next generation to be full of lucid and smart-ass comments well into our 90s.
The Older Brother is now a year away from age 60 and isn’t showing any signs of losing his memory. (When he does, I’ll tell him he owes me money.) I like to think our conversation about Alzheimer’s is part of what turned him into the dedicated real-foodie he is now. After all, I owe him for turning me into a libertarian by shredding me in an impromptu economics debate back when I was a wishy-washy “moderate” about such things.
Second, I apologize for the delay in crawling back into the Fat Head chair myself. I came home from the cruise happy but exhausted. As usual, I stayed up waaaay too late the last couple of nights, getting in those last conversations with cruise buddies I won’t see again for a year.
To add insult to injury, whenever I have to catch a flight or leave a cruise ship early in the morning, my brain likes to pop awake at a ridiculously early hour. So I flew home on Sunday after sleeping maybe two hours. Perhaps because of the exhaustion, I came down with some kind of head cold/ear infection annoyance a couple of days later. When Thursday rolled around, I was running a fever and didn’t much feel like writing a post.
Here’s the difference a good diet makes: ear infections used to knock me flat for a week. Thursday I felt lousy and had a high fever. By Sunday I felt well enough to spend four hours pushing the mower up and down the big hill in our back pasture … then go play 18 holes of disc golf.
Anyway, on to the cruise report …
I’ll start with the most surprising news of the week: Jimmy Moore and I won the cruise-ship karaoke contest with our rendition of “Elvira.” We didn’t set out to enter the competition, but when we wandered into the karaoke club on Wednesday night, we learned it was the first of two qualifying competitions. Well, what the heck, since we wanted to sing anyway, we signed up. Applause from the crowd was the major factor in the qualifying rounds, which gave us an advantage … although some of our fellow low-carb cruisers were ticked off by the loud cheers that greeted two Brazilian girls in tight dresses.
I can’t believe you two are going to get beat out of the finals by a couple of dresses!
Uh, look, I replied, you’re taking this way more seriously than I am. It’s just for fun. The winners don’t move on to American Idol or anything.
But the low-carb crowd managed to out-whoop and out-clap the fans of tight Brazilian dresses, so Jimmy and I made it into the Saturday night finals. The emcee announced that applause would only count as 20% of the score for the finals. I have my doubts. Truth is, everyone in the finals could sing. An objective listener could have voted for any of us. So I think applause figured for more than 20%.
Two of the singers (Brazilians, but not in tight dresses) had large groups of partisans in attendance, but I’d say at least of the third of the crowd consisted of low-carb cruisers. When it was time for vote-by-applause and the emcee held his hand over Jimmy and me, the noise was deafening. I told Jimmy I felt like we’d just won an election in Chicago, complete with ballot-box stuffing. But of course, I happily wore the shiny first-place medallion afterwards. It was a great way to end a great week.
There were three seminar days for our group, with so many good presentations, I won’t bother trying to describe them all. That would require a book-length post. Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt posted the seminar schedule on his blog awhile back, so I’ll just link to it rather than type the lineup again.
On last year’s cruise, Dr. Eric Westman announced that he would soon be opening his first HEAL Clinic – a center dedicated to treating diabetics with diet instead of drugs as much as possible. (Imagine that.) This year he was able to announce that the center is up and running. His long-term goal is to open them all over the country.
Low-carb author Dana Carpender wrote the official cookbook for the HEAL Clinic diet. After all, once people leave the clinic, they have to put what they’ve learned into practice in their own kitchens. The recipes – hundreds of them – are mostly of the quick-and-easy variety. If you like low-carb cookbooks, this is another good one to have. If you’re not on a ketogenic or VLC diet, do what I do: cook up one the recipes and add a potato as a side dish.
In Dr. Ted Naiman’s presentation about hyperinsulinemia, we learned why Dr. Westman’s approach is so necessary. Going through a series of studies at breakneck speed (the guy is a fast talker), Dr. Naiman made the case that high doses of insulin are as damaging as high blood sugar. If you’re a type I diabetic and need to squirt a normal dose of insulin into your bloodstream to absorb nutrients, fine. You have no choice. But doctors are treating type II diabetics with ever-higher doses of insulin – several times the dose produced by a person with a healthy metabolism.
The sky-high load of insulin thickens arteries, encourages the growth of tumors, triggers weight gain, and pretty much makes a mess of the whole body. So when I hear diabetes (ahem) “experts” insisting that type II diabetics should eat their carbs and then “cover” with insulin, I want to scream. Or punch somebody really, really hard.
One of the memorable presentations came from one of our own – Ailsa Marshall, a member of the team that organizes the cruise every year. She apologized a couple of times for not being a professional speaker (after, say, pushing the wrong button on the PowerPoint remote), but not being a professional was part of her charm. She was up there as just another person battling both diabetes and the effects of bad medical advice.
As she explained, she had tried following her own doctor’s advice, but her blood sugar kept spinning out of control, despite the insulin and other drugs. It was on last year’s cruise, in fact, that she finally asked Dr. Westman if he could help. (A bit tricky logistically, since Ailsa lives in the U.K. and Westman is at Duke in North Carolina.) Dr. Westman said he could indeed help, but under one condition: she had to be 100% on board. No half-measures, no cheating. She agreed.
A year later, she’s off the insulin and her blood sugar is finally under control. Oh, and she’s also lost 40 pounds. I almost didn’t recognize her at the pre-cruise dinner, even though I’ve known her for a few years now.
As I put it in the title of a long-ago post, This Is Why We Do What We Do. Ailsa’s story needs to become the common story for type II diabetics, not the story of one woman lucky enough to be treated by Dr. Westman instead of some drug-pushing doctor.
As if anyone needed more convincing, Jackie Eberstein (the long-time nurse for Dr. Atkins) gave an interesting/frightening presentation on the side effects of the most commonly prescribed drugs. Nearly all of them create vitamin or mineral deficiencies, yet few doctors know enough to tell patients which supplements to take. Then, of course, the drugs prescribed by different specialists treating the same patient start producing negative interactions. Then another doctor may prescribe more drugs to treat the problems caused by the drug interactions.
Geez, it’s enough to make you want to stay healthy by eating real food.
Real food was, in fact, one of the most common themes throughout the presentations. In his amusing talk about what low-carbers and paleo types think of each other, Jimmy Moore said many paleo adherents see low-carbers as a bunch of fat people swilling Diet Cokes and other treats full of artificial sweeteners. (Low-carbers, meanwhile, see paleo types as born jocks who gobble down treats made with honey and maple syrup and get away with it because they’re born jocks.)
Some years ago, that stereotype of low-carbers may have been true. It certainly isn’t now, at least not from what I’ve seen. Thanks largely to the paleo movement (which Jimmy acknowledged), the low-carb movement has become a real-food movement. Every doctor and researcher who gave a presentation on the advantages of a low-carb diet emphasized that the diet has to be based on real foods.
In a speech about the supposed dangers of ketogenic diets, Dr. Adam Nally pointed out that when people wave around studies of, say, kids who experienced health problems after going on a ketogenic diet to treat epilepsy, they don’t mention that the kids were largely living on ketogenic shakes, not real food. The health problems were caused by nutrient deficiencies nearly everyone who tries living on meal-replacement shakes will experience.
Anyone who thinks a low-carb diet is all about bacon and cheeseburgers without buns should join us for our leisurely cruise dinners. Yes, we ate steaks and lobsters and racks of lamb. We also ate a ton of vegetables. The waiters for our area (who were excellent) figured out our habits right away and took it upon themselves to bring huge serving trays of extra steamed vegetables to the tables – with butter, of course.
I took a camera on board, but as often happens when I’m not with Chareva and the girls, I forgot to use it much. But here are some of my dinner companions for the week. (There were more people at our table, but not when I was snapping pictures.)
Steve and Mariane Cunningham from Alberta.
Jeane Kelly (left) from New Jersey and Lisa Colclasure from Colorado.
Yours truly and Gerd Birgit Hay from Norway.
I sure hope I said something funny just before the picture was snapped. If not, Gerd may have been laughing at me for undisclosed reasons.
The seminars took place on sea-travel days. On port days, most people leave the ship for excursions. I chose not to go on any excursions. Back in my standup days, I was on Caribbean cruises more times than I care to remember. Beaches, beach bars, and souvenir shops have kind of lost their appeal. So I did some reading, watched tutorials on software I want to learn, and walked around the ship while sipping coffee. Here’s what the fifth-deck promenade looks like:
The eighth deck is called Central Park. There are shops, restaurants and an outdoor tavern along the walking paths. I thought for the sake of realism, the crew should stage an occasional mugging late at night, but no, it’s safe even at 1:00 AM. Nobody tried to steal my wallet as I sat there one night drinking red wine and staring at the stars.
I also took some time to re-work the blog a bit, in case you hadn’t noticed. I removed dead links, reduced the blogroll to people who are still blogging, dumped the No-Bologna Facts and Meet The Experts pages, and added a page for articles and studies. I plan to keep updating that one.
This year’s cruise took place during finals week for the girls, which is why they and Chareva stayed home. I missed them. It’s not the same being on a cruise without them. I borrowed Jimmy’s iPhone a couple of times so I could talk to them via Facetime and see their faces. (And when I got home, I finally caved and bought an iPhone.)
But next year … ohhhh, yeah! In case you didn’t already know:
I booked the four of us for next year before leaving the ship. No way I’m letting my wife and girls miss a week in Alaska. I did two weeks in Alaska during my standup days. In fact, I wrote the script for Fat Head during that cruise. (My standup workweek consisted of two shows, so I had plenty of downtime.)
For my presentation this year, I read portions of the book for kids, with Chareva’s cartoons on the screens. I already told Jimmy I’m going to have the film version ready to show in Alaska, no matter what it takes. Perhaps it will be the premiere.
Meanwhile, I saw in the cruise Facebook group that more than 150 people have already signed up. So if you’re planning to join the group in Alaska, best get on it sooner rather than later.
Hope to meet many of you there — or see you again, as the case may be.
Thanks for putting together another terrific cruise and seminar lineup, Big Guy … and for singing “Elvira” with me, of course.
I leave town on Friday for the low-carb cruise. I’d planned to write one more full post this week, but as usual, I’ve got a lot to wrap up before leaving.
The Older Brother will be taking over the Fat Head chair while I’m gone. I wasn’t sure he’d be available, since The Middle Son is getting married in a few weeks. But The Older Brother assured me his main wedding responsibility is to show up on time.
I’ll check comments when I can. Other than that, I plan to spend my time on the ship relaxing, socializing, reading and sleeping as late as I choose.
See y’all when I get back. (I’ve lived in the South for six years now, so I believe I’m entitled to use “y’all” without feeling too self-conscious.)
A reader sent me a link to a Consumer Health Digest article titled Eight Reasons Why Eating Cheese Is Harmful For Health. After I finished laughing at the utter nonsense, I decided the article is a perfect example of what’s wrong with media health reporting. Let’s take a look. (By the way, I changed the quote style with a bit of help from some PHP-savvy readers. Hope it works better on those tablets and whatnot.)
1. Cheese can Contain Bacteria Transferred from the Cows It Comes From
Although it can be a little weird to think about, cheese is a byproduct of cows.
Boy, that is weird. I thought it came from cheese trees. If it comes from cows, I’m going to stop putting cheese on my burgers. I only eat non-cow foods.
Made from cow’s milk, cheese can contain anything stuff that the cow it came from had in its system –including synthetic hormones and bacteria.
I don’t know what “anything stuff” is, but as for cheese containing whatever the cow had in its system, I’m pretty sure we can say that about any animal food.
It has long been suspected that synthetic hormones and bacteria transferred from cows to humans contribute to health problems, including memory and mood problems along with infections.
It’s long been suspected, eh? Well, that’s all the scientific proof I need.
2. Cheese is Really, Really Fattening
To many people, cheese seems like a healthy food. People on diets often eat cheese as a “light” snack to get the dairy in for the day. Unfortunately, cheese wrecks diets. Full of saturated fat, cheese instigates weight gain. The body also tends to digest cheese in such a way that it turns into stubborn, hard to lose fat.
I see. So if we check the research, we’ll find that people who eat full-fat dairy products are consistently fatter than people who don’t – because of that saturated fat that instigates weight gain and turns into stubborn, hard to lose fat. Let’s dig into the study files … ah, got one. It’s a meta-analysis of 16 studies. Here’s the conclusion:
In 11 of 16 studies, high-fat dairy intake was inversely associated with measures of adiposity.
That would mean people who ate full-fat dairy are thinner, not fatter. Back to the Consumer Health Digest article:
Apart from causing weight gain, saturated fat is also known for wreaking havoc in the cardiovascular system. It can significantly influence cholesterol levels as well, which can be a bad for a person’s health.
I could swear I just saw a study about dairy fat and cardiovascular disease … oh, now I remember! That was the topic of my previous post. Researchers measured biomarkers of dairy-fat consumption in a population of more than 3,000 people and compared that to rates of heart disease. To quote from my quote from an article about the study:
What they found is that the dairy intake of people who had heart attacks was not statistically different than the intake of people who did not. After breaking people into quintiles, based on their dairy consumption amount, there was no significant linear relationship between consumption and heart risk, even among the most voracious consumers.
Even the “most voracious” consumers of dairy fats didn’t have higher rates of heart disease. That was the study that had the researchers fumbling for an explanation … such as perhaps there’s some protective substance in dairy foods that offsets the effects of the saturated fat.
3. Cheese is Very Salty
Another nutrient cheeses are often full of is sodium. Though necessary to the body, sodium is often consumed in excess. Regular consumption of cheese can increase the amount of sodium a person eats drastically. Unfortunately, the excess sodium can cause several health issues, including:
High blood pressure
Stiff Blood Vessels
Stroke and Heart Attack
None of which has ever been proven. However, there have been several studies – like this one and this one – suggesting that low-salt diets might be harmful.
4. Cheese Can Contribute to Cardiovascular Issues
As a result of the high-fat nature of many kinds of cheese, eating cheese regularly can significantly contribute to obesity and thus to cardiovascular issues. Add in the amount of sodium that most cheeses contain and it’s clear that cheese can really be terrible for heart health.
Uh … uh … I know eight reasons sounds more impressive than seven reasons, but didn’t you just cite obesity and heart disease as reasons to avoid cheese up there in reason number two? You’re just as wrong now as you were a few paragraphs ago.
5. Cheese Making Can Be Considered Inhumane
Many kinds of cheese are manufactured with rennet. This is made by taking an enzyme from the lining of a calves’ stomach. Unfortunately, the calves must be very young when the enzyme is harvested. As a result, cheese making in some regions and processes involves the slaughter of young calves.
Holy crap! Next you’ll be telling me hamburger-making involve the slaughter of cattle.
6. Cheese Can Ruin Your Diet
On top of being really fattening, cheese can be a complete diet-wrecker because it is commonly paired with other carbohydrate-rich foods.
Well, that’s it, then. From now on, I’m only buying low-carb cheese.
Generally served with bread, crackers, and other “heavy” carb dishes, cheese often contributes to packing on the pounds.
I see. Cheese is fattening because it’s paired with “heavy” carb dishes like bread and crackers. If only it were somehow possible to eat cheese without all those carbs. When I see Dana Carpender on the cruise, I’ll ask if she can dream up a recipe or two. Maybe she can point me to a kitchen utensil that slices the bread and other carbs off the cheese.
7. Cheese Can Contain Mold Secretly
One of the hidden dangers of cheese is mold. Sure, some people eat moldy cheese as a delicacy. Many people also just cut moldy chunks off of cheese wedges and choose to eat the rest. However, mold can be hiding in the cheese and be invisible to the naked eye.
I looked up “foods that contain mold.” Here’s a partial list: pickles, relishes, green olives, vinegar, mustard, sour cream, beer, sauerkraut, smoked meats, canned tomatoes and dried fruits. So yes, if you want a mold-free diet, you should avoid all those foods. And the cheese too.
8. Cheese Can Make You More Susceptible to Cancer
Some people have suggested that cheese, along with meat, might be bad for people’s heath as a cigarette. Studies on the topic have revealed that the consumption of excessive protein, as occurs when people eat a large and consistent amount of cheese and meat, is risked to links of cancer and to shorter lifespans.
The writer’s source for that last statement is the observational study Dean Ornish was touting awhile back. High-protein diets were associated with higher mortality … but only for people under age 65. After the age of 65 (this is the part Ornish chose to ignore), high-protein diets were associated with a longer lifespan and lower rates of heart disease and cancer.
So if we’re going to believe observational studies prove cause and effect, we have to believe that meat and cheese cause cancer up to age 65, then prevent it after age 65. I’m 57 now, so I only have to hang on for eight more years. And I will … partly because I know better than to listen to media health writers.
The amount of protein a person should eat from cheese is also related to their age, indicating that cheese can be consumed in moderation at any age, but should be limited during many stages of life as well.
If anyone can make sense of that last sentence, please tell me what it’s supposed to tell me.
Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a nutrition scientist. But I repeat myself.
Sorry, just couldn’t resist borrowing from Mark Twain. Let me try again.
Suppose you’re a nutrition scientist. And suppose you conduct a study, all the while expecting the results to support a hypothesis you already believe. But then — @#$%!! — the results undermine the hypothesis.
Oh, dear, what to do?
We saw one way to handle that sticky situation in our last episode: just don’t publish the results. Ancel Keys conducted a clinical study in which people who consumed vegetable oils instead of arterycloggingsaturatedfats!! had higher mortality rates – including higher mortality from heart disease. Keys didn’t like that result, so the data gathered dust for 40 years. Nice move, Ancel.
Here’s another way to handle results you don’t like: explain them away. I found a couple examples of that method while looking through my database of studies recently.
Dairy products can be high in harmful saturated fat but not necessarily in risk to the heart.
Okay, let’s stop right there. Take a moment and wrap your head around that sentence. Saturated fats are harmful. Why? Because according to the Lipid Hypothesis, they cause heart disease. But they don’t necessarily pose a risk to the heart.
A newly published analysis of thousands of adults in Costa Rica found that their levels of dairy consumption had nothing to do statistically with their risk of a heart attack.
To conduct the study, [researchers] Aslibekyan and Baylin analyzed data on 3,630 middle-aged Costa Rican men and women who participated in an epidemiological study between 1994 and 2004 by co-author Hannia Campos of the Harvard School of Public Health.
Ah, so it was an observational study. Perhaps the researchers would be justified in explaining away their own results.
The researchers looked not only at the subjects’ self-reported dairy intake, but also at measurements of dairy fat biomarkers, namely 15:0 and 17:0, in their bodies.
Whoops. Not just an observational study. They actually measured biomarkers that told them how much dairy fat the participants consumed. Let’s look at the results.
What they found is that the dairy intake of people who had heart attacks was not statistically different than the intake of people who did not. After breaking people into quintiles, based on their dairy consumption amount, there was no significant linear relationship between consumption and heart risk, even among the most voracious consumers. The highest consumption quintile consumed an average of 593 grams of dairy foods a day.
Once again, stop and wrap your head around that. We’ve been told for decades to stop consuming cream and butter because the saturated fats cause heart disease. But in this study of more than 3,600 people – a study in which researchers directly measured biomarkers of dairy fat consumption – there was no relationship between consuming those arterycloggingsaturatedfats!! and heart disease.
So how do we explain this result?
Rather than suggesting that the saturated fats in dairy products are harmless, Aslibekyan and co-author Ana Baylin, an adjunct assistant professor of community health at Brown, hypothesize that other nutrients in dairy products are protective against heart disease, for all but perhaps the highest dairy consumption quintile in their study. The potentially beneficial nutrients include calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
Well, there you have it: saturated fats cause heart disease, ya see, but people who consume a lot of saturated dairy fats — even the most voracious consumers — don’t have higher rates of heart disease because … uh … because something else in the dairy products is protecting their hearts!
Awesome. Coming soon: nutrition scientists decide there must be heart-protective substances in bacon, eggs and sausage that offset the heart-killing effects of the arterycloggingsaturatedfats!!
Here’s another example of explaining away embarrassing results. In a 2010 study, researchers randomly assigned subjects to one of three groups: no change (the control group), 60 grams of whole grains for 16 weeks, or 60 grams of whole grains for 8 weeks followed by 120 grams of whole grains for 8 weeks.
These are the markers of cardiovascular health the researchers measured, according to the abstract:
BMI, percentage body fat, waist circumference; fasting plasma lipid profile, glucose and insulin; and indicators of inflammatory, coagulation, and endothelial function.
If whole grains are the wunnerful, wunnerful, health-enhancing food we’ve all been told they are, the second group should have shown improvement those health markers, and the third group should be well on its way to immortality. So let’s check the results:
Although reported WG intake was significantly increased among intervention groups, and demonstrated good participant compliance, there were no significant differences in any markers of CVD risk between groups.
No significant difference in any markers. That would mean not one.
Oh dear … and here we have our beloved USDA telling us all we need to eat more whole grains. How do we explain this result? Here’s how:
A period of 4 months may be insufficient to change the lifelong disease trajectory associated with CVD.
Riiiiiiight. Four months of consuming large servings of whole grains doesn’t affect BMI, percentage body fat, waist circumference, fasting plasma lipid profile, glucose, insulin, or indicators of inflammatory, coagulation, or endothelial function. But those whole grains may still have a positive effect on the lifelong disease trajectory associated with CVD.
Yeah, that makes perfect sense.
Well, at least these studies were published. If Ancel Keys had conducted them, the data would still be sitting in a dusty attic somewhere.
The film follows Donal – a lean, fit, seemingly healthy 41 year old man – on a quest to hack his genes and drop dead healthy by avoiding the heart disease and diabetes that has afflicted his family.
Donal’s father Kevin, an Irish gaelic football star from the 1960s, won the first of 2 All Ireland Championships with the Down Senior Football Team in 1960 before the biggest crowd (94,000) ever seen at an Irish sporting event.
When Kevin suffered a heart attack later in life, family and friends were shocked. How does a lean, fit and seemingly healthy man – who has sailed through cardiac stress tests – suddenly fall victim to heart disease?
Can a controversial diet consisting of 70% fat provide the answers?