Archive for the “Bad Diets” Category

Last night Chareva and I watched two episodes of the National Geographic series EAT: The Story of Food.  One was on sugar, the other on wheat.  If you’re looking for information on the health effects, look elsewhere.  The episodes were mostly about how these foods changed societies – and how much we love them!  The only warning about sugar was that it might cause diabetes, and the episode on wheat may as well have been written by the grain industry, with sections on The Miracle of Bread (the staff of life!) and The Magic of Beer.

I’ve mentioned in several posts that I’m a grammar grump, so I suppose this description in our on-screen cable guide should have served as fair warning that I wouldn’t like the episode on wheat:

My own grammar went immediately downhill when I read that one.  Good thing the girls weren’t in the room.  The expletives were out of my mouth before I checked the whereabouts of young ears.

I was hoping, of course, that the episode on wheat would be another example of the Wisdom of Crowds overwhelming the official dietary view of wheat as a health food.  Oh well.  I guess the crowd hasn’t crowded its way into the production offices at National Geographic just yet.

Nonetheless, it’s obvious the grain industry has seen the writing on the wall and is now fighting a defensive battle.  A reader alerted me to an article in the U.K. Daily Mail with the headline Wheat-free diet could be WORSE for your health, new report warns.  Take a look:

Stick-thin celebrities including Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Victoria Beckham, and Gwyneth Paltrow rave about their healthy ‘wheat-free’ lifestyles. 

Note to journalists:  if you want to scare people away from grain-free diets, it’s not an effective strategy to refer to grain-free celebrities as “stick-thin.”  There are millions of people out there who look nothing like a stick and would like to give it a shot.

Devotees claim going gluten-free can alleviate everything from tiredness and bloating to spotty skin and hair loss.

I’m a fan of wheat-free diets, but trust me on this:  if you’re bald, giving up wheat won’t resurrect your hair follicles.  Best you can do is compensate by growing a beard that some readers like and some readers don’t.

But wheat-free diets ‘lighten the wallet and not the waistline’, according to a scientific report due to be published later this month.

The report comes as a poll by Weetabix found 32 per cent of British people avoid wheat because fad diets like the Paleo Diets and Wheat Belly diet warn against gluten.

There’s that Wisdom of Crowds effect that has them scared witless.  Paleo?  Wheat Belly?  Has either ever been given a stamp of approval by the official experts?  Hardly.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  And yet both are catching on for the simple reason that people are telling each other how much better they feel after giving up the grains.

In a report due to be published by Warwick University, experts will argue that there is little evidence behind the claims made by popular wheat-free diets.

Good luck with that argument, you wild ‘n’ crazy experts.  Because here’s the cold, hard truth:  when people ditch wheat and find relief from arthritis, gastric reflux, asthma, psoriasis, etc., etc., they tend not to give a rat’s ass what the (ahem) experts say.

Dr Robert Lillywhite, senior research fellow at Warwick Crop Centre, said: ‘The scientific evidence behind many of the most popular wheat free diets is surprisingly thin. It may perhaps be the case that most will only lighten your wallet, rather than provide longer-tern health benefits, by encouraging you to switch from low cost cupboard staples to specialist foods intended for those who genuinely need to avoid gluten.

Yeah, yeah, yeah … only 1% of the population has celiac disease, blah-blah-blah.  I don’t have celiac disease either – I had the lab test run out of curiosity, since wheat was causing me problems.  Those problems went away when I ditched the wheat (although the baldness stubbornly refused reverse itself).  Thanks to the Wisdom of Crowds, people are learning that you don’t have to be officially diagnosed with celiac disease to be damaged by wheat.

‘We are delighted that Weetabix are investing in a review of the science in this area but of course we won’t be able to comment further on this work until the research is complete.’

Weetabix … you mean the people who make these?

Yeah, I’m sure that will be an objective review.

A quarter of people under 34 said they buy less cereal and bread because of the latest diet craze.  This could be why 90 per cent of British people eat less than half of the recommended 30g of fibre a day.

Eating the recommended amount of fibre can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and some cancers, and can also improve digestive health, doctors advise.

Claire Canty, Senior Brand Manager at Weetabix said: ‘The research highlights the misconceptions about whole wheat and how people might be mistakenly avoiding it.

No, I’m pretty sure people are avoiding it on purpose.

‘Whole wheat has been shown to be important to gastrointestinal health, thanks to its high fibre content and range of micronutrients.’

Riiiiiight.  Gotta eat your wheat if you want a healthy digestive system.  That explains all the people in health forums online sharing stories of how adding wheat to their diets caused all kinds of nagging health issues to go away.

Go ahead, Weetabix spokespeople and other eat-your-grains types.  Find those stories online.  Send us links to all those “wheat saved my life!” posts on social media.

You can’t, because they don’t exist (other than any planted by the grain industry, of course).  But there are plenty of compelling stories being shared by people who gave up grains.

I’ll recount one of those in my next post – a story from one of Chareva’s relatives whose health was saved by the Wisdom of Crowds.


Comments 115 Comments »

A reader sent me a link to this documentary produced by the CBC in Canada.  It’s 45 minutes long, but well worth it.

I only have a few complaints:

1. Despite all the recent research, a couple of the doctors interviewed just can’t help themselves:  they still have to lump fat and sugar together, as if they’re equally to blame for bad health.  They should know better by now.

2. The narrator mentions fruits, vegetables and grains as part of a healthy diet.  Head. Bang. On. Desk.  There’s nothing health-promoting about grains.

3. Since there’s a problem, then by gosh, we need a government solution, at least according to the producers.  No, we don’t.  We just need to educate people about what sugar does to their health.  If they still want to eat the stuff, that’s their business.  All those fat-free foods that hit the market during the anti-fat hysteria of the 1980s and 1990s were the result of consumer demand, not government regulations.

Let me know what you think.


Comments 51 Comments »

Hiya, Fatheads!

Bad news.

Tom is hard at work on that book/DVD project he’s been teasing us with for the last year or so, which is good. But it’s taking a bit more time and effort for this phase than he’d planned, so you all are stuck with me for another week or so. It should be worth it in the end, so let’s all, as Lone Watie said in the classic “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (played by Chief Dan George) –

“endeavor to persevere.”

BTW, if you’re too young to get that reference, you need to watch that movie. If you don’t have that kind of patience, or if Josey has ended up on the non-PC list, or if you’d just like a reminder of one of the great scenes in movies:

Okay, enough about the first Americans put on a government-run welfare program.

Back here in the present day, I’ve pointed out before the adage that “grandchildren are your reward for not strangling your children when they’re teenagers.” The Wife and I got an invitation to go to breakfast with The Oldest Reward (1st grader) yesterday at her school’s Grandparents Day. It was fun, and well attended.

Of course, you knew this had to be there:

You want to indoctrinate kids when they’re young. Otherwise, they may start thinking for themselves and we all know how messy that can get. Here’s something I never saw posted on the wall in the school cafeteria when I was a kid:

I never saw it, because hypoglycemia is associated with diabetes. Type I (juvenile) diabetes is rare and kids with it don’t need a poster to be aware of it. The other is Type II diabetes, but when we were kids, that didn’t exist. The condition did, of course, but it hadn’t been renamed to Type II diabetes. It was called “Adult Onset diabetes,” because almost no one got it until they were well past school age, usually mid-life and later.

It’s no puzzle to any Fatheads on how you create an unprecedented epidemic of insulin resistance in children. It’s simple. You just feed them breakfasts like this:

Didn’t manage to capture the other offerings in the picture, but you could balance your plate out with oatmeal and/or a plastic wrapped muffin, also. Not a drop of the fat kids need for their brains in sight, and the only protein available was a few grams in the milk. Fat Free!, of course. Ugh. The menu was missing one of last year’s offerings:

Thanks a lot, Michelle Obama.

Leah picked out what she thought looked good, and ate about half of it.

The Wife and I passed on the meal and just enjoyed being with her and her multitude of buddies. I was still fuming over the whole raw milk thing (or as the grandkids call it — “creamy milk!”) and took a look at the label on the fat-free chocolate milk:

Interesting that the FDA, USDA, CDC, and the Illinois State Medical Society are conducting a jihad against raw milk, but don’t seem to have anything but praise for the folks who bring our kids milk concocted with alkali, cornstarch, salt, artificial flavors, and carrageennan. Note also that the label does warn the consumer that this product “CONTAINS: MILK.” You know, just in case anyone was worried about there being milk in their milk.

It was fun being with the Oldest Grandkid, and we got to meet her teacher and see some of the school before she blasted off to the playground to squeeze in some playtime with her buddies before the bell started the school day. But the wife and I were a bit hungry so we stopped on the way to work and picked up a much higher quality breakfast to start our own workdays:

(Heh, heh. Just making sure Tom keeps getting those royalty checks from Ronald McDonald!)

Have a great weekend. Like it or not, I’ll have a few more things to say next week.


The Older Brother


Comments 44 Comments »

Before I was a programmer, I was a software trainer for Manpower in Chicago.  In fact, I started teaching myself programming to pass the time during long stretches when the trainees were busy working away on their tutorials.  I was stuck at a desk with a PC, reading books or magazines in front of the paying customers was a no-no, so why not make use of the time?

The training consisted of step-by-step instructions that walked the trainee through the basics of working with, say, Microsoft Word or Excel.  I soon noticed that the trainees fell into one of two categories:  those who viewed the instructions as gospel that must be followed to the letter, and those who viewed the instructions as a means for learning the software.  I thought of them as process-oriented vs. goal-oriented.

The process-oriented people would drive me a little nuts sometimes.  We’d have conversations something like this:

“Excuse me, I did something wrong here.  The next step shows that I should have a table with six columns, but mine only has five.  Should I start over?”

“No, you’ve already typed all that data into the table and I’m sure you don’t want to type it again.  Do you understand how to create a table?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Then just move on.”

“But the picture in the sample shows a table with six columns.”

“That’s okay.  You probably just typed the wrong number of columns in the dialog box when you created it.  If you understand how to make a table, you can move on.”

“But mine doesn’t look like the instructions say it should.  Can I do this exercise again?”

“If you really want to, sure, go ahead.”

These people had learned what they needed to learn.  But they hadn’t followed the process to the letter and seemed to think they’d get a black mark on their permanent records if they didn’t go back and successfully complete every instruction.

By contrast, the goal-oriented trainees usually skipped past some of the instructions once they knew they’d grasped the concept.  They understood that the point of the training was to learn the software, not to be a slave to training process.

I witnessed a laughable example of the follow-the-instructions mentality when I was working as a contract programmer at Disney.  This was 1999, and most of us were busy rewriting database systems to make sure they were Y2K compliant.  We had regular meetings to ensure that we met conversion deadlines set by upper management, and some dim-bulb administrative assistant was put in charge of running the meetings and writing progress reports.

At one of those meetings, she announced that we were supposed to certify seven systems that day.   I had created one of those systems using Access 2000, which was Y2K compliant.  I demonstrated the system’s functions, showed that it would handle four-year dates, and figured that was that.  My boss (who unfortunately wasn’t also the dim bulb’s boss) nodded his approval.

Then the dim bulb explained that her Y2K process manual said we should have a document from Microsoft stating that Access 2000 is Y2K compliant.  I told her I’d already gone online and checked Microsoft’s technical specs, which stated specifically that Access 2000 is Y2K compliant.

“But we’re supposed to have a document.”

At that point, my boss jumped in.

“Tom just demonstrated that it’s Y2K compliant, and Microsoft has stated that it’s Y2K compliant.  It’s Access 2000.  They wouldn’t release software called Access 2000 that can’t handle dates starting in the year 2000.  Let’s move on.”

“But we don’t have a compliance document from Microsoft.  The manual says we should have a compliance document for the files.”

My boss sighed.

“Okay then, Tom will find out how to get a compliance document.  Let’s move on and certify the other systems.”

“We can’t do that.  We’ll have to reschedule.”

“Reschedule?  Why would we reschedule?  Everyone’s here and we have the meeting room for another hour.”

The dim bulb referred to her printed meeting agenda.

“It says here we’re going to certify the following seven systems at this meeting.  But we can’t, because we don’t have the document for Tom’s system.”

“Yes,” my boss said slowly, as if speaking to a toddler.  “So let’s certify the other six and we’ll come back to Tom’s system next time.”

The dim bulb checked her agenda again.

“But it says here we’re going to certify these seven systems.  We can’t certify one of them today, so we’ll have to cancel this meeting and reschedule when we’re ready to certify all seven of them.”

For a minute, I’d thought I’d actually see my boss (a very affable man) blow a gasket.  Instead, he pointed to her printed agenda and spoke through gritted teeth.

“Well, you see, what you have in front of you there is just some ink on a piece of paper. The goal here is to get systems certified.  There’s no reason we can’t certify the other six systems on the list and then come back to Tom’s system next time.”

“But it says here we’re supposed to certify seven systems today.”

“There are seven systems on the list because that’s how many we thought we could demonstrate in the time allotted for this meeting.  These systems have nothing to do with each other.  They just happen to be on today’s list.  So let’s certify the other six.”

The dim bulb looked confused for a moment, then sought clarification in her printed agenda.

“No, it says here we’re supposed to certify seven systems.  We can’t do that today.  We’ll have to reschedule.”

So the meeting ended with eight of us rolling our eyes and the dim-bulb satisfied she hadn’t violated the dictates of some ink on a piece of paper.

It took me about 10 minutes to find and download the document the dim bulb needed.  I forwarded it to my boss and told him I would have found it sooner, but Chareva had called me from the grocery store.  She’d gone there with a list of 12 items to purchase but discovered the store was out of one of them.  So she had no choice but to put the other 11 items back on the shelves and reschedule the shopping trip.  My boss liked that one.

So what does all this have to do with health and nutrition?

Well, I thought about the slave-to-instructions mentality when several readers sent me a link to an article about a mom in Canada who (eek!) violated government nutrition guidelines:

A Manitoba mom was slapped with a $10 fine because the lunches she packed for her kids’ lunches didn’t have any Ritz crackers.

Kristen Bartkiw sent her children Natalie and Logan to daycare with lunches of leftover roast beef, potatoes, carrots, milk, and oranges.

That sounds like a pretty decent lunch for a kid.  What could possibly be the problem?

The daycare providers evidently didn’t think the wholesome lunch fit the nutritional bill because Bartkiw was subsequently charged for the Ritz crackers that the lunches had to be ‘supplemented’ with.

According to Metro News, Manitoba laws require that daycares provide children with a nutritious meal as prescribed by the Canadian Food Guide.  That means one milk, one meat, one grain, two fruits.

Oh, dear.  Mrs. Bartkiw didn’t include a grain product in those lunches.  The Canadian Food Guide says each lunch must include a grain product, so by gosh, the rule-followers had to jump and give those kids a Ritz — because we must always obey the process, and because everything (including stupidity) sits better on a Ritz.

Let’s look at the ingredients for Ritz crackers:

Oh, yes, definitely … those are the ingredients that turn a nutritionally deficient meal into a nutrition powerhouse.

This is what I mean by confusing the goal with the process.  The goal is for kids to be healthy.  Anyone with a brain should recognize that there’s nothing about the meal Mrs. Bartkiw packed – beef, vegetables, fruit and a potato – that’s going to harm her children’s health.  And anyone with a brain should recognize that adding Ritz crackers to that meal isn’t going to make her kids any healthier.

That’s why I want governments to get out of the nutrition-advice business.  The “advice” becomes a set of rules, and then the rules must be followed.  Everyone involved becomes a slave to the process.  The original goal that the process was intended to support – helping people become healthier – ends up having nothing to do with any of it.


Comments 47 Comments »

Back in June, I wrote a post about Sam Feltham’s n=1 experiment in which he consumed more than 5,000 calories per day of low-carb/high-fat foods for 21 days.  In a post on his Smash The Fat blog introducing that experiment, he spelled out exactly what he would eating:  lots of meats, eggs, greens and nuts.  The macronutrient breakdown on a typical day looked like this:

Calories:  5,794
Protein:  333.2
Fat:  461.42
Carbohydrates:  85.2g

Feltham estimated his daily calorie expenditure to be around 3,128.  (He’s an active cyclist.)  So according to the simple calories-in/calories-out theory, he should have gained nearly 13 pounds in 21 days.  But he didn’t.  As he reported at the end of the 21 days, he gained less than three pounds – while losing an inch around his waist.  In other words, he gained a bit of lean mass but apparently didn’t get any fatter.

I wouldn’t suggest people who’ve battled a weight problem repeat that experiment, of course.  If you check the pictures on his blog, you’ll see that Feltham looks like a naturally lean guy.  His body probably resists gaining fat.

Ahhh, but what if he consumed more than 5,000 calories per day on a diet high in refined carbohydrates?  Would the hormonal effects of all those excess carbohydrates overcome his natural resistance to getting fatter?

In a word:  Yup.

Feltham recently completed yet another n=1 experiment that lasted 21 days.  This time the diet looked like something Morgan Spurlock would try (assuming he could eat all these foods at McDonald’s while pretending to only consume three meals per day) … cereals, breads, jam, pasta, desserts and sodas.  Here’s the breakdown:

Calories:  5,793
Protein:  188.65
Fat:  140.8
Carbohydrates:  892.7

Wow.  My glucose is rising just looking at those figures.   Let’s look at Feltham’s results from his blog:

As it was the last day I also weighed myself this evening at 97.3kg, giving me a mean for day 21 at 96.8kg, which is a massive +7.1kg up from the start and +0.1kg above the calorie formula on a 53,872 k/cal surplus.

So he gained almost 16 pounds.  And it wasn’t lean tissue this time, either.  He also gained three inches around his waist.  (He had small waist to begin with, so nobody will be asking him to wear the Santa suit at this year’s holiday party.)

What’s interesting to me is that on the high-carb overeating experiment, the calorie equation held up.  Unlike with his LCHF diet, Feltham did, in fact, gain a fraction more than one pound for every 3,500 extra calories he consumed.

I’d say the same about Morgan Spurlock’s sugar-fest month at McDonald’s.  Spurlock gained 24 pounds in 30 days, which means he was probably overeating by around 2,800 calories per day.  (We of course don’t know for sure, since he won’t show anyone his food log.  But his nutritionist cautioned him twice in Super Size Me that he was eating more than 5,000 calories per day.  And unlike Feltham, who continued his exercise routine during his experiment, Spurlock intentionally moved as little as possible.)

As I mentioned in my post about Feltham’s first experiment, the calorie freaks immediately tried to explain away his inability to gain more than a few pounds on 5,200 daily calories of LCHF foods by insisting he must have a super-fast metabolism.  Funny how that super-fast metabolism didn’t help him when he switched to a diet full of refined carbohydrates.

By the way, Feltham has already gone back to a LCHF diet (which he’s calling his rehab diet) to undo the damage.  He’s 10 days into a diet consisting of meats, greens, butter and nuts.  His average daily intake is 3,622 calories, 313 grams of fat, 170 grams of protein and 34.38 grams of carbohydrates.

He’s lost just over nine pounds as a result.  A good chunk of that is likely water weight, but I suspect he’ll be back to his original weight and body-fat percentage soon enough.


Comments 55 Comments »

Before getting into the subject of Burger King’s new “healthier” fries, I’m going to anticipate a common (and incorrect) objection about using the words healthy and healthier to describe foods.  The objection, which I’ve seen in comments on a few blogs, goes something like this:

Foods aren’t alive and therefore can’t be healthy!  Foods that are good for you are healthful, not healthy!

As Johnny Carson used to say:  Wrong, buffalo-breath.  If foods aren’t alive and therefore can’t be healthy, how the heck can they be full of health?  And how can a person be said to have a healthy attitude?  Attitudes aren’t living organisms either … but a positive attitude can be conducive to good health.  Foods can also be conducive to good health, which is a definition of healthful.  But guess what?  That’s also one of the definitions of healthy.  Here’s a quote from the

The distinction in meaning between healthy (“possessing good health”) and healthful (“conducive to good health”) was ascribed to the two terms only as late as the 1880s. This distinction, though tenaciously supported by some critics, is belied by citational evidence — healthy has been used to mean “healthful” since the 16th century. Use of healthy in this sense is to be found in the works of many distinguished writers, with this example from John Locke being typical: “Gardening . . . and working in wood, are fit and healthy recreations for a man of study or business.” Therefore, both healthy and healthful are correct in these contexts:  a healthy climate, a healthful climate; a healthful diet, a healthy diet.

Okay, just felt the need to get that out of the way so I don’t have to keep using clunky terms like more healthful and less healthful. Now let’s take a peek at an article by a journalist who was invited to try Burger King’s new healthier french fries:

We tasted them, and you may not miss the 40% fat and 30% calories stripped from the spuds.

So the next time you’re at a Burger King and asked ‘Do you want fries with that?’ you might feel a little less guilty about saying yes.

I’d say that depends on what’s in those fries.

Just over half of the the fast food chain’s 100 million monthly customers orders fries. And while most of them aren’t expecting to get a health boost from their meal, heightened awareness about diets and nutrition, and the role that fried foods play in obesity, are starting to weigh on customers’ choices. It’s not entirely realistic to expect a healthy, nutritious meal delivered at a fast food counter, but it does makes sense that their menu developers start listening to what people want.

Have you discussed this with The Guy From CSPI?  He thinks McDonald’s should be serving tofu and salads.  That’s because he thinks people are mindless idiots who just eat whatever you offer them.

That’s why quick service restaurants are all offering healthier fare. There is a grilled chicken option for nearly every fried item, and salads freshen up the menu boards of all fast food chains now. But it turns out visitors to these restaurants want only one thing — the food that made these chains so popular in the first place — burgers, fries and shakes.

Bingo.  This is the basic-economics stuff activists like The Guy From CSPI can’t grasp:  people don’t buy burgers and fries because fast-food chains sell them; fast-food chains sell them because that’s what people buy.  One of my favorite on-the-street interviews in Fat Head was when I asked a young lady, “If McDonald’s sold broccoli in a nice red container like this, would you order the McBroccoli?”  She replied, “Maybe if they fried it or put cheese on it.”

Which is why we see behavior like this:

Getting people to eat healthier food at fast food joints is a major challenge for the industry. Burger King’s market research, for example, showed that people who walk into a restaurant intending to order grilled chicken change their minds at the register and consistently order fried.

People want their fried food.  Got it.  So what is it exactly that makes Burger King’s new version of fried potatoes healthier?

Satisfries are made with the same oil and equipment as the traditional french fries, and, not surprisingly, Burger King won’t reveal the oil-repelling agent responsible. But we consulted some food science experts who say that lowering fat content in fried food is more an engineering trick than a nutritional one.

That’s what I want when I order food:  an engineering trick.

“There are several patents out there now. It’s actually kind of an old technology,” says Mary Ellen Camire, the president-elect of the Institute of Food Technologists of the fat-fighting batter technique.

Adding modified starches to the surface of foods like potato chips, or adding ingredients to wet batters like proteins, gellan gum, methylcellulose and hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose and soy and pea flours, are well known ways to make fried foods less absorbent.

Sounds yummy!  And healthier, of course.

Camire says many fast food industry efforts to lower fat content costs them customers because the loss of fat leads to loss of taste or texture or both.

Or it could be that people’s taste buds are warning them they’re about to eat a frankenfood.

I don’t think I’ll be trying the gellan gum, methylcellulose and hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose and soy and pea flours fried in canola oil anytime soon.  I suspect readers of this blog won’t either.  But if you miss fries and want to indulge in a healthier version now and then, try Chareva’s sweet-potato fries.  Here’s the recipe:

  • Heat bacon grease in a frying pan
  • Toss in some thinly-sliced, peeled sweet potatoes
  • Fry the sweet potatoes until they’re crispy
  • Dump them on some paper towels and let them cool a bit
  • Add salt to taste

No hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose or soy flour required.


Comments 63 Comments »