Archive for the “Media Misinformation” Category

Hey there, Fat Heads!

Long time. Tom asked last week if I’d like to man The Big Chair while he and Jimmy have their Thanksgiving Disc Golf Death Match, to which I replied “About time! …um, I mean, sure, I could probably do that.”

It just so happened that last Friday, The Wife and I got to do our annual “Grandparents’ Breakfast” at The Granddaughters’ school.

[Previously known as The Grandkids, they’ve been assigned a new moniker as The Wife and I have been blessed with THREE grandsons since the last time I filled in here.

Grandson number one came as part of a package deal when The Middle Son got married on Dauphin Island this last May.

Yeah, I ended up back on Dauphin Island again. I’ve stopped saying I’m never going back, because Karma just loves a good practical joke. A co-worker suggested I just go ahead and buy a burial plot down there since that seems to be where I‘m going to end up!

Grandson number two was born in August to The Youngest Son and his fiancée, and numero tres showed up in September a week ahead of schedule for The Middle Son and his new bride.]

We were down to one grandkid as the older sister was home sick, but it was still a good time. Despite all of the changes we’re seeing as the Wisdom of Crowds starts to seep in to the culture regarding nutrition, I’m sorry to report that not much seems to have changed on the school menu front compared to the first time we did this a couple of years ago (see here). Bottom line is carbs are still cheap when you’re feeding a village.

I didn’t see the MyPlate poster this year, but this one was still on the wall:

Yep, remember when we were kids and constantly had to be watching out for our schoolmates keeling over from hypoglycemia?

Yeah, me neither. We didn’t really have to deal with it back in the day because one of the main causes, as stated on the poster, is from “too much insulin or diabetes medicine,” and kids didn’t have really have Type II diabetes back in the day. It was called “Adult Onset” because that’s when you got it.

So the Granddaughter picked out her breakfast, and we sat down to visit. We passed on the food offerings and just went for the coffee. Here she is with her plate:

So, a donut (obviously known not to be health food), a healthy box of orange juice, a healthy zero fat carton of chocolate milk, and a healthy wrapper of apple slices.

After leaving (and getting a McMuffin sans muffin top for breakfast), I went ahead and did a little research on the nutritional breakdown of our darling’s meal (sorry about the spacing!):

Calories            Carbs (g)             Fat (g)          Protein (g)
Donut                          260                       31                     14                          3
Choc Milk                    110                       20                      0                          8
OJ                                  60                       14                       0                          1
Apple Slices                  35                         9                       0                         0
TOTAL                         465                       74                     14                        12
est calories                                             296                    126                       48
% of total cal                                         64%                      27%                    11%

So WOW. Two things — the donut could just be the healthiest thing on The Granddaughter’s plate(!) as it’s at least got some fat for her brain. But not the good kind, I’m guessing. The other thing is that the composition of carbs, fat, and protein are pretty much right in line with the SAD nutritional guidelines. WINNING! Or, to put it in perspective, the public schools think this much sugar is about the right amount for a grade school kid’s breakfast:

(74 grams of sugar)

Sure, she could’ve skipped the donut, but the alternative would’ve been a bowl of cereal. No bacon and eggs on the menu.

I’m hoping maybe with the seismic political upheaval we’ve had that maybe we can start getting the Michelle Obama/The Anointed effect out of school menus. I don’t expect the kids are going to start getting meals like the Obama’s kids did at Sidwell, but it’s kind of sad to think that if we went back to when the Reagan administration got blasted for counting ketchup as a vegetable, it would be a yuuge improvement! I’m not hopeful, but after November 9th, who knows what the heck can happen, no?

Good to be back — see you in the comments.


The Older Brother


Comments 19 Comments »

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
Kidney Disease
Weak Bones
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.



Comments 100 Comments »

I’d have to dig through my Outlook archives to say for sure (and I won’t), but this one may have set the new record for the number of Did you see this?! emails I received.

If you follow the health news (and if you haven’t been on a retreat in the wilderness or otherwise deprived of the internet for the past week), you already know a new study declared that low-fat beats low-carb for weight loss … once and for all, end of story, final word, move along folks, there’s nothing else to see. Let’s look at some media treatments of the news.

From a BBC article titled Low-fat diets ‘better than cutting carbs’ for weight loss:

Cutting fat from your diet leads to more fat loss than reducing carbohydrates, a US health study shows.

Scientists intensely analysed people on controlled diets by inspecting every morsel of food, minute of exercise and breath taken. Both diets, analysed by the National Institutes of Health, led to fat loss when calories were cut, but people lost more when they reduced fat intake.

From a Washington Post article titled Scientists (sort of) settle debate on low-carb vs. low-fat diets:

Seeking to settle the debate, scientists from the National Institutes of Health set up a very detailed and somewhat unusual experiment.

They checked 19 obese adults (who were roughly the same weight and had the same body-mass index) into an inpatient unit at the NIH clinical center, for two-week increments.

For the first five days of each visit, the volunteers were given a baseline diet of 2,740 calories that was 50 percent carbohydrate, 35 percent fat and 15 percent protein. This wasn’t very different from what they were eating before. But for the following six days, they were given either a low-fat diet or a low-carb diet, each having 30 percent fewer calories. Each participant was also asked to exercise one hour a day on the treadmill.

After analyzing everything from how much carbon dioxide and nitrogen they were releasing to their hormone and metabolite levels, the researchers concluded that the calorie-per-calorie, low-fat diets beat out low-carb diets.

My favorite headline was from the Los Angeles Times: For fat loss, low-fat diets beat low-carb diets handily, new research finds.

Low-fat won handily? Must’ve been real butt-whippin’ demonstrated in those results.

It is a central dogma of the low-carb lifestyle: that while avoiding carbohydrates will force the human body into fat-burning mode, any diet that fails to suppress insulin will trap body fat in place and thwart a dieter’s hope of shifting to a leaner, healthier body type.

But researchers from the National Institutes of Health have found that the hallowed creed of Atkins acolytes doesn’t hold up in the metabolic lab, where dieters can’t cheat and respiratory quotients don’t lie.

So it was the Atkins diet that got a butt-whippin’ by low-fat. I repeat: The Atkins Diet. I don’t know about you, but I would take that to mean the diet prescribed by Dr. Atkins.

And how long did the diets last? Let’s check the LA Times again:

As the 19 subjects recruited for the current study dieted their way through four weeks of low-carb and low-fat regimens, Hall and his colleagues conducted brain scans and other tests to glean how diets with differing nutrient compositions affected their mood, motivation and sense of satisfaction.

My goodness … they dieted their way through four weeks of low-carb and low-fat regimens, according to the LA Times. I take it that means the subjects were on diets lasting four weeks.  That ought to be long enough for real differences to emerge.

But wait a second … I seem to recall the Washington Post describing the diets a bit differently …

But for the following six days, they were given either a low-fat diet or a low-carb diet, each having 30 percent fewer calories.

Hmmm, we seem to have conflicting stories here.  Four weeks vs. six days on each diet.  Perhaps we should check the study itself – which I did. After reading it, I suspect we have a case of “let’s design a study to produce the results we want.” In fact, I can’t help but imagine the conversation:

“Okay, Jenkins, grab your laptop and step into my office. We need to design a good, solid, scientific study to settle this low-fat versus low-carb issue once and for all.”

“Excellent, sir. You mean in a metabolic ward and everything?”

“Exactly. Let’s start with the low-fat portion.”

“Well, sir, the usual definition of a low-fat diet is less than 30 percent of total calories, so I suppose we should—”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Jenkins. If we’re going low-fat, let’s really go low-fat!”

“Ahh, I see. Something like the very-low-fat diet Dr. Ornish pushes. Okay, 10 percent of total calories, then.”

“Damnit, Jenkins, you’re not listening! I said really low-fat! Let’s go down to, say, 7.7 percent of total calories from fat.”

“So a diet nobody would ever follow voluntarily in real life for any length of time, then?”

“Correct. Now, for the low-carb side of things …”

“That’s easy, sir. The Atkins books recommend starting at 30 grams of carbohydrate per day, so—”

“Good grief, man, we can’t put human beings on such an extreme diet!”


“So we’ll go with 140 grams per day, including, say, 37 grams of sugar. That should be a fair comparison for our purposes.”

“But that’s twice as many carbohydrates per day as the Atkins diet recommends even in the maintenance stage, must less when starting a—”

“Well, it’s complicated, Jenkins, so let me explain it this way: shut up.”

Actually, the explanation isn’t particularly complicated. Here’s a quote from the full study:

Given the composition of the baseline diet, it was not possible to design an isocaloric very low-carbohydrate diet without also adding fat or protein. We decided against such an approach due to the difficulty in attributing any observed effects of the diet to the reduction in carbohydrate as opposed to the addition of fat or protein.

In other words, they didn’t want to add or remove protein from either diet, and they didn’t want to add fat to the low-carb diet or carbohydrates to the low-fat diet. They wanted to compare restricting carbs to restricting fat with no other changes, period.

Okay, fine. But in that case, the “low-carb” diet is nothing like the low-carb diet recommended by the Atkins diet books, or by any doctors who promote low-carb diets. So the accurate conclusion and/or headline should be something like Extreme low-fat diet produces more fat loss than a sort-of, kind-of, almost-low-carb diet … at least when the diets last six days.

Yup, six days. It was the Washington Post’s description of the duration that was accurate. The L.A. Times got it wrong. Based on those six days, the researchers then describe in their paper how computer models predict substantially more fat loss for the low-fat group if both diets lasted six months.

Uh-huh. I rank that up there with Al Gore claiming his computer models can accurately predict the climate in 2050 … even though those models didn’t accurately predict the previous 10 years. I’m a programmer, so trust me on this: computer-simulation models tell you what you tell them to tell you. The only way we’ll actually know how these diets perform over six months is to keep people on them for six months.

And we’d also want more than 19 people involved. I just wrote a post last week demonstrating how random chance alone can create “significant” differences in small study groups. Nineteen people, diets that lasted a whopping six days … I wouldn’t bet on those results being reproduced with large groups over a long time.

But about those results … the Los Angeles Times assured us the low-fat diet beat the (ahem) “low-carb” diet handily. So what were the big differences in outcomes?

Well, people on the low-fat diet lost (on average) 1.296 pounds of body fat. People on the (ahem) “low-carb” diet lost (again, on average) 1.166 pounds of body fat. The difference was therefore just a shade over one-tenth of one pound. If you don’t believe random chance can produce that trivial of a difference in a study group of 19 people put on diets lasting six days, I suggest you take a class in statistics.

But wait … did I say 19 people? Well, that’s not quite true. According to the paper, 19 people were enrolled in the study – 10 men and nine women. The study had a crossover design, meaning everyone goes on one diet, then goes back to normal eating for a couple of weeks, then goes on the other diet. They’re randomly assigned to do one diet or the other first.

But the results table shows n=19 for the (ahem) “low-carb” diet and n=17 for the low-fat diet. That means two of the subjects didn’t complete the low-fat diet. So I can’t help but wonder why the researchers didn’t simply toss the results for those two people from the study altogether. Why calculate their results on the (ahem) “low-carb” diet into the average if they didn’t finish the other diet? I thought the goal here was a head-to-head comparison of the same people on different diets.

I also can’t help but wonder why, given the small group, the researchers didn’t just show us the full results for everyone. In studies with hundreds of subjects, sure, you pretty much have to present group-average results to make sense of the numbers. But for the 17 people who completed both diets, heck, just show us everyone’s results and stick the averages at the bottom of the table.  If some individuals lost a lot more weight on low-fat vs. low-carb or vice versa, that would be worth knowing.  It would also be worth knowing if one or two outliers skewed the averages for the groups.

Well, apparently that did happen.  I found this in the paper:

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.

Uh … okay.  I’d sure like to see those individual results, though.

All those complaints aside, there were some interesting results in the study tables (again, keeping in mind the small groups and short durations). During the six-day diets, triglycerides dropped by 17.5 points in the (ahem) “low-carb” group, and by 4.3 points in the low-fat group. For total cholesterol, the drop was 8.47 points in the (ahem) “low-carb” group and 19.1 points in the low-fat group. HDL dropped by 2.67 points in the (ahem) “low-carb” group and by 7.27 points in the low-fat group.

So if low triglycerides and high HDL are indicators of heart health (and if these results are actually meaningful), I’m sticking with a lower-carb diet … but one with more fat, thank you very much, because I want my HDL to go up, not down.

The results I found most interesting were for glucose and insulin. In the (ahem) “low-carb” group, glucose dropped by an average of 2.69 points … but in the low-fat group, glucose dropped by 7.1 points. So it’s clearly possible to reduce glucose levels with a very low-fat diet, despite the high carb intake, if calories are restricted enough.

This study has been hyped by the anti-Taubes brigades as a refutation of the insulin hypothesis, but the tables show very little difference in insulin levels. The (ahem) “low-carb” group showed a drop in fasting insulin of 2.76 points, while the low-fat group showed a drop of 2.04 points. Nonetheless, here’s how the researchers described the difference:

The experimental reduced-energy diets resulted in substantial differences in insulin secretion despite being isocaloric.

Hmmm … I’m thinking there’s a reason they chose the word “substantial” instead of “significant.” Let’s check the tables again …. Yup, the p value (RC versus RF) for the change in fasting insulin is .48. The threshold for “statistically significant” is .05 or below. So the difference here wasn’t even close to significant — in a study some people are waving around as proof that insulin levels aren’t a factor in the ability to lose body fat … perhaps because they read what the researchers wrote in their conclusions instead of checking the study tables.

And by the way, the p value (RC versus RF) for change in body fat was .78 — so unless I’m misinterpreting the meaning of p value (RC versus RF), we would interpret that as “statistically, the odds of this difference being due entirely to chance are 78 percent.”

Within the obvious limitations, the study does show that restricting calories can produce a drop in insulin even when the overall carb count stays the same. So it’s not as simple as carb intake = fasting insulin level. Total energy intake figures into it as well.

That being said, it would be very, very interesting to see what the differences in insulin levels (among other results) were if 1) the study ran much longer, 2) there were more than 17 people who completed both diets, and 3) the “low-carb” diet was actually low-carb and didn’t include 37 grams per day of sugar.

I believe the less-hype, more-substance reporting on the study was in an article that appeared in Forbes magazine online:

But a well-controlled new study finds that – at least in the lab – low-fat might be slightly better for weight loss over the long term. That does not mean that we should all revert to the low-fat insanity of the ’80s and ’90s. Rather, the more valuable take-home message might be that rejecting carbs may not be so necessary for long-term weight loss as many of us believe, and that a nutrient-balanced diet is probably the smarter strategy in the long term.

And frankly, whatever kind of diet is most doable for an individual is probably the one to be on. If it’s easier to stick to low-carb than low-fat, then by all means do it. But a balanced diet is still king.

Bingo. It’s certainly possible to lose weight on a high-carb, very-low-fat diet. It’s possible to lose weight on any diet if you restrict calories enough. I tried a Pritikin-style diet (10% of calories from fat) twice, and lost a bit of weight both times – and then I had to quit both times because I was miserable, hungry all the time, and eventually felt too lethargic and depressed to continue. Meals were an exercise in monkish discipline, choking down tasteless food and trying to convince myself I was fine with it.

Now I’m not miserable, not hungry all the time, and never depressed … which means when people hype a study like this as “proof” that a low-fat diet is better than an (ahem) “Atkins” diet, I can enjoy a hearty laugh.


Comments 84 Comments »

Depending on which article you read, somewhere between 30% and 55% of people in the U.S. and Canada are cutting back on grains, especially wheat.  That’s no small threat to what has long been the most profitable sector of the food industry.  (Those government grain subsidies sure help.)

So the grain industry is fighting back with I’ve decided to call the Save The Grain Campaign.  The campaign employs three main tactics I’ve noticed so far:

1. Promote grains as a necessary health food.
2. Attack people who say grains are bad for us.
3. Attack diets like low-carb or paleo that limit or eliminate grains.

Back in January, I wrote a post about an incredibly stupid article in Shape Magazine that featured the headline Low Carb Diet Linked to Shorter Life Expectancy.  The article was about a Harvard observational study in which people who ate whole grains had longer lifespans than people who ate white flour.  From that study, the dunce reporter at Shape Magazine concluded that 1) whole grains are health food, and 2) a low-carb diet will shorten your lifespan.

Riiiight.  And if people who smoke filtered cigarettes live longer than people who smoke unfiltered cigarettes, that means unfiltered cigarettes are good for you … so people who don’t smoke will die prematurely.  Same twisted logic.  Leaders of the Save The Grain Campaign must have been proud.

The grain promoters know they can’t claim that grains are good for everyone without looking foolish.  After all, there’s that little problem known as celiac disease.  So they’re quick to point out that only one percent of the population has been diagnosed with celiac disease.  Grains are great for the other 99 percent, ya see.

Riiiiight.  That’s roughly equivalent to pointing out that only seven percent of cigarette smokers develop lung cancer, so cigarettes are fine for the other 93 percent.  Celiac disease may be the most severe form of grain intolerance, but it’s hardly the only one.  As I’ve mentioned before, when I stopped eating wheat and other grains, I waved goodbye to psoriasis on my scalp and arthritis in my shoulder, to name just two benefits of many.  And guess what?  I don’t have celiac disease.  I had the test done to be sure.

If my daughter Sara eats wheat, she gets red blotches on her arms she calls da bumps – and I doubt she has celiac disease.  I’ve heard from people who gave up grains and stopped getting migraines, or restless legs at night, or cold sores, or mood swings, or … well, heck, name it.  Most of them, like me, didn’t give up grains because they have celiac disease or were worried about gluten or the gliadin protein.  They gave up grains because they adopted a low-carb diet to lose weight, then noticed all those lovely side benefits.

That’s why I believe some studies and articles discouraging people from adopting a low-carb diet are part of the Save The Grain Campaign.  When people go low-carb, bread, pasta and cereal are usually among the first foods swept from the menu.  So with that in mind, let’s look at a couple more articles I’d consider part of the campaign.

We’ll start with an article on the Med Page Today site with the headline OmniCarb Study: Cutting Carbs No Silver Bullet.

Overweight and obese people who followed a low glycemic index diet in the context of an overall DASH-type diet had no greater improvements in insulin sensitivity, lipid levels or systolic blood pressure compared with study subjects who ate high glycemic index foods, in a randomized, controlled feeding study.

Low glycemic?  I though the headline was about low-carb.

Following a low-glycemic index, low-carbohydrate diet, compared with a high-glycemic index, high-carbohydrate diet did not affect insulin sensitivity, systolic blood pressure, LDL cholesterol or HDL cholesterol, but it did lower triglycerides during the from 111 to 86 mg/dL, researcher Frank M. Sacks, MD, of Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote in the Dec. 17 issue of JAMA.

Ah, there was a low-carb arm of the study.  So they must have limited carb intake to somewhere between 20 and 50 grams per day.

Among the two study diets with a high carbohydrate composition (58% of daily energy), one had a high glycemic index (≥65 on the glucose scale) and the other had a low glycemic index (≤45 on the glucose scale).

The two other diets had a low carbohydrate composition (40% of daily energy), with one having a high (≥65%) and the other having a low (≤45%) glycemic index.

Um … 40% of daily energy as carbohydrate is a low-carb diet?  Say what?  If I consume 2500 calories per day, 40% as carbohydrate works out to 250 grams per day.  I’m pretty sure that’s nothing like what Dr. Atkins recommended.

As I read the article, I realized I’ve written about Dr. Frank Sacks and his research before.  In fact, my first-ever blog post (nearly six years ago) was titled Create Your Very Own Biased Study.  It was about a study conducted by … wait for it … Dr. Frank Sacks, who declared that low-carb diets aren’t particularly good for inducing weight loss.  He showed as much by putting people on a (ahem) low-carb diet.  Except his definition of low-carb was … wait for it … 35 percent of calories.  Again, that’s nowhere close to the degree of carbohydrate restriction recommended by Dr. Atkins, Drs. Eades & Eades, etc.  Heck, even Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet, with the safe starches and all, tops out at 30% of calories from carbohydrates.

Dr. Sacks has to know that low-carb diet plans start at 50 grams max, then gradually raise the carb intake to perhaps 100 grams.  So I can’t help but wonder why he keeps studying “low-carb” diets that allow well over 200 grams per day, then uses those results to declare that cutting carbs doesn’t make much of a difference.  Why not try an actual low-carb diet in one of these studies?  Because to me, his studies look like reducing an alcoholic’s intake from 10 drinks per day to seven, then declaring that the poor S.O.B. still isn’t sober, so there’s no point in cutting back on alcohol.

If Dr. Sacks wants to steer people away from low-carb diets, at least he’s subtle about it.  This article in Consumer Reports isn’t:

Widely publicized diets, such as high protein and low carbohydrates, seem so promising. It’s no wonder so many of us have tried—or considered—them. But does science support the claims? We spoke with doctors and dietitians, and read the research.

They may have spoken with doctors and dieticians – which is roughly as useful as asking for dietary advice from a plumber – but based on what follows, I can guarantee they didn’t read the research.

Remember the Scarsdale diet and the Stillman diet? Those high-protein, low-carb plans may have gone out of fashion, but Atkins, first published in 1972, is still hot. Protein-packed products are flooding stores, and the list of popular protein-rich diets—Paleo, Zone, and more—continues to grow. All claim that you’ll lose pounds, feel peppier, and reduce your risk of heart disease.

People lose weight on high-protein plans because they take in fewer calories, not because they focus on protein. “Diets only work by lowering calories,” says David Seres, M.D., director of medical nutrition at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York and a member of Consumer Reports’ medical advisory board. “Where the calories come from doesn’t matter.”

Yes, when you lose weight, you take in fewer calories than you burn.  That’s HOW you lose weight, but not WHY you lose weight.  In several studies, people on a low-carb diet spontaneously ate less despite not being told to restrict calories.  That means something positive happened with their metabolisms.  Eating less is the result, not the cause.  Dr. Seres’ statement is akin to saying that Alcoholics Anonymous may work, but only because people stop drinking.

In addition to pushing protein, many of these plans recommend cutting back on—or completely eliminating—carbohydrates. Get less than 50 grams of carbs per day (the amount in two apples) for three to four days in a row, and your body will start tapping its own fat and muscle for fuel instead of its usual source: glucose derived from carbohydrates. That may sound like a way to shed pounds, but it can have serious health consequences. “You’re altering your metabolism away from what’s normal and into a starved state,” Seres says. “People in starved states experience problems with brain function.”

Holy crap, I’d better load up on carbs and then check that highly complex program I spent all those overtime hours coding last month – with everyone from the president of IT on down waiting for results.  I’m told it worked quite well.  On the other hand, my brain function is impaired, so I might have heard “This sucks — you’re fired” and interpreted it as “I really appreciate all your hard work in getting this done” … from the president of IT.

A high-protein diet also overworks the kidneys. That’s especially worrisome for people with kidney disease and can predispose those with healthy kidneys to kidney stones.

If your kidneys are damaged, they can leak protein.  In that case, you need to restrict protein.  But protein doesn’t cause the damage in the first place.  Here’s a quote from a journal article on the supposed dangers of high-protein diets:

The purpose of this review is to evaluate the scientific validity of AHA Nutrition Committee’s statement on dietary protein and weight reduction, which states: “Individuals who follow these [high-protein] diets are risk for … potential cardiac, renal, bone, and liver abnormalities overall.

Simply stated, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that high-protein intake has adverse effects on liver function. Relative to renal function, there are no data in the scientific literature demonstrating that healthy kidneys are damaged by the increased demands of protein consumed in quantities 2–3 times above the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

In contrast with the earlier hypothesis that high-protein intake promotes osteoporosis, some epidemiological studies found a positive association between protein intake and bone mineral density. Further, recent studies suggest, at least in the short term, that RDA for protein (0.8 g/kg) does not support normal calcium homeostasis. Finally, a negative correlation has been shown between protein intake and systolic and diastolic blood pressures in several epidemiological surveys.

In conclusion, there is little if any scientific evidence supporting the above mentioned statement.

So I guess the anonymous Consumer Reports reporter didn’t actually slog through the research before repeating what a few doctors and dieticians believe.

When it comes to heart disease, the saturated-fat-laden red meat that’s part of many high-protein diets may actually boost your risk. According to a Harvard study of more than 120,000 people followed for more than 20 years, a meat-based low-carb diet increased the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 14 percent.

Denise Minger sliced and diced that observational study in a guest post on Mark Sisson’s blog.  It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here’s the money quote:

If you secretly suspected that this was a “people who eat red meat do a lot of unhealthy things that make them die sooner” study, you can now gloat.

As you can see, the folks eating the most red meat were also the least physically active, the most likely to smoke, and the least likely to take a multivitamin (among many other things you can spot directly in the table, including higher BMIs, higher alcohol intake, and a trend towards less healthy non-red-meat food choices).

Same old, same old … in a society where people are told meat is bad for them, it’s mostly the I don’t give a @#$% people who eat more meat – well, except for us LCHF and paleo types.  I don’t give a @#$% types have worse health outcomes for all kinds of reasons – including not giving a @#$%.

By the way, I realize some of you are probably expecting me to jump up and down and insist that a low-carb diet is a high-fat diet, not a high-protein diet.  Truth is, unless you aim for a constant state of ketosis – which I don’t – a low-carb diet probably will be high in protein.  And for most of us, I think that’s good.  I’ll explain why in a future post.

In the meantime, we can all sit back and chuckle at the Save The Grain Campaign.  I give them kudos for effort, but it’s not going to work.  You can’t easily convince people to dismiss their own experiences.


Comments 72 Comments »

I’ve written a few posts about how the Wisdom of Crowds is changing what we see offered in restaurants and grocery stores. Thanks to books like Wheat Belly, numerous blogs and discussion groups in social media, more and more people are figuring out they’re better off without wheat and other grains.

Well … you didn’t think the grain industry would take that lying down, did you? We’re talking about the most profitable sector of the food business, and one of the most profitable industries on the planet.

The grain industry is pushing back with media articles I’m going to start calling the Save The Grain Campaign. Let’s look at a couple of recent examples.

We’ll start with an online article titled 5 Unintended Consequences of Going Gluten-Free:

A gluten-free diet is becoming more and more popular for a variety of reasons. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness estimates that 1% of the American population has celiac disease, the autoimmune disease triggered by gluten. An NPD Group study from 2013, however, showed that 30% of Americans are trying to cut back on or completely avoid gluten in their diets.

Hmm, you’d almost think there are benefits to giving up gluten even for people who don’t have celiac disease. Or maybe it’s just a fad. I don’t know.

Going gluten-free, though, isn’t without it’s downsides.

But learning the difference between its and it’s has very few downsides.

Here are 5 things to think about if you’re cutting gluten from your diet.

1. You may be missing out on important vitamins. We started enriching staples in the American diet — through flour, mostly — with iron and B vitamins for two reasons: we’re notoriously bad at getting our recommended daily value, and deficiencies cause things like birth defects and anemia.

Well, that and the fact that if you live on wheat flour that isn’t fortified, you’re prone to birth defects and anemia.

While people suffering from celiac disease physically can’t absorb most nutrients, if you’re cutting out gluten without really thinking about all the nutrients you get from wheat products, you may find that you’re not doing your body any favors. Inside Tracker explains some of the nutrients you’ll need to actively seek out when you go gluten-free:

Fiber, which helps your body slow the absorption of sugar into the blood and works to improve digestion, as well as helps you feel full for a longer period of time.

Folic acid, a B vitamin that the federal government mandates manufacturers to add to their wheat-based products.

Iron, which many U.S.-produced wheat flours are fortified with and helps the body move oxygen to your muscles and organs, but few gluten-free flours are iron-enriched. An iron deficiency can make you anemic and weak.

Got that, folks? Don’t, for heaven’s sake, eat vegetables for fiber and meat for B vitamins and iron. You need your gluten foods to get the iron and folic acid that are artificially added.

2. It can get pricey. If you’ve started a gluten-free diet, regardless of the reason, you’ve probably noticed that many of the staples in an American diet revolve around wheat. Most of the popular foodstuffs made traditionally — cereal, bread, etc. — will have a lower cost at checkout than those now being made with ingredients and processes new to their processing plants.

So don’t worry yourself about the costs of treating asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, Sjogren’s, psoriasis, arthritis, migraines or diabetes. You’ll save almost a dollar when you buy wheat bread vs. gluten-free bread.

3. You may gain weight. Many people jumping on the gluten-free train are hoping to lose weight by cutting gluten from their diets. Men’s Fitness reports that many of the replacements for wheat flour used by manufacturers — cornstarch, rice flour — are more calorically dense than their wheat counterparts.

Man, that’s enough to make me consider basing my diet on meats and vegetables instead of cornstarch.

If you do have celiac disease, you may notice a quick increase in your weight once you cut gluten out of your diet. explains that one of the effects of gluten on the system of someone with the autoimmune disease is that nutrients aren’t absorbed well, or at all. Removing gluten and restarting your nutrient absorption means you’re actually going to start feeding your body, and you may see some weight gain.

Okay, you silly celiac sufferers: Do you really want to start absorbing nutrients again if it means you might gain weight? Stick with the wheat and stop trying to actually feed your body. You’ll look better in a swimsuit — and remember, wheat is fortified with important nutrients your body needs even though you can’t absorb them well, or at all.

4. The slightest bit of gluten can make you miserable. Especially if you have celiac disease! While you’re eating gluten regularly, your body slogs through the reaction, but if you cut gluten from your diet, the tiniest bit can cause a major reaction.

Once again, you silly celiac sufferers, listen up! Your body has learned to slog through the reaction to a food that makes you sick. Trust your body on this one. If you stop eating the food that makes you sick and then eat it again later, you could feel really sick! So just keep eating it.

And to all you alcoholics out there, I’m warning you: If you stop drinking a pint of whiskey every day and then later decide to drink a pint of whiskey, you’ll feel really, really sick! So don’t be an idiot – keep drinking so your body doesn’t forget how to slog through the reaction.

5. Your cholesterol may rise. If you have celiac disease and your body hasn’t been properly absorbing nutrients, you may have particularly low cholesterol. At the point when you begin to normalize, though, your cholesterol may jump up.

And as we all know, cholesterol is a killer. So keep eating the food that makes you sick and prevents you from properly absorbing nutrients so you can continue to have particularly low cholesterol. (But be sure to choose fortified wheat products, because they contain important nutrients you can’t properly absorb.)

The next article in the Save The Grain Campaign comes from the CBC in Canada and is titled Wheat Belly arguments are based on shaky science, critics say. Normally I start with a quote from the top of an article, but in this case I think it’s more instructive to pull a quote that explains why the grain industry is scared @#$%less of Dr. William Davis and his Wheat Belly book:

Kellogg’s, the world’s largest cereal maker, has seen its biggest drop in sales since the 1970s. Food companies are selling off their struggling bread divisions, while wheat sales are plummeting across Canada.

That’s because millions of people are going wheat-free, influenced by best-selling health evangelists and celebrities who say wheat is responsible for everything from fat bellies to breast cancer to schizophrenia.

So yeah, I think it’s safe to say the grain industry is none too happy with Dr. Davis. When I had dinner with him in December, I told him – only half-joking – to please say out of dark alleys.

Here are some other quotes from the article:

Critics say the anti-wheat claims made by leading health crusader Dr. William Davis are based on shaky science, an investigation by the fifth estate has found.

Newsflash: Dr. Davis’ critics are criticizing him. Stop the presses.

Davis and others in the anti-wheat movement are changing the way people eat — 56 per cent of Canadians now report they’re cutting down on foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, pastas and pastries.

That can’t be good. That means the Canadians are missing out on important nutrients. And if they have celiac disease, they may gain weight and see their cholesterol rise once they begin absorbing nutrients.

But the fifth estate’s investigation found that experts in the scientific community say scientific claims made by the anti-wheat movement are questionable at best.

Joe Schwarcz, a chemist at McGill University dedicated to demystifying science and debunking big claims, says, “This is one of these arguments that has one smidgen of scientific fact to it, which is then exploded into a whole blob of nonsense.”

Schwarcz says he hasn’t seen any evidence that wheat has addictive properties, as Davis claims in his book. Schwarcz also says “opioid peptides” are produced when some foods are digested. But just because they can bind to opiate receptors in the brain doesn’t mean they produce a morphine-like effect.

It appears that Davis based this claim mainly on one study of rat brains, done on dead rats in 1979. The fifth estate could not locate any study on humans that conclusively proves wheat is addictive.

That’s a bit like saying the fifth estate could not locate any study on humans that conclusively proves orange hats cause brain cancer. The studies haven’t been done. But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that wheat isn’t truly addictive. So what? I only care if it’s good or bad for me.

Davis also links wheat to mental illness such as schizophrenia. But the study he based his research on was conducted in 1966 …

Um … meaning it’s not valid? It’s past the expiration date?

… and after almost 50 years of research, no one consulted by the fifth estate could point to any definitive study that specifically links wheat to schizophrenia.

Um …meaning researchers have spent nearly 50 years trying and failing to find a link between wheat and schizophrenia?  I’m pretty sure the accurate statement would be something like as far as the fifth estate can determine, nobody has conducted any further research on the subject since 1966.

What about Davis’s claim that today’s wheat is not wheat at all, but a “modern creation of genetics research”?

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have been studying the genetic profiles of 37 varieties of wheat grown in Canada since the 1800s, to discover if wheat’s basic protein structure has been altered in any way.

Wheat geneticist Dr. Ravi Chabbar is heading up the Saskatchewan project and is paid to advise the grain industry, but this particular project is being funded by the federal government.

Oh, well, if this study is funded by the federal government, it couldn’t possibly be biased. It’s not as if Canada is a major wheat exporter or anything.

Dr. Chabbar says that over time, wheat has been modified to produce high-yield crops. But when it comes to wheat’s proteins – gluten and gliadins – the basic structure of “ancient” and modern wheat is the same.

So we have this stuff that only grows two feet tall, with an abnormally thick stalk, and yields ten times as much per acre as traditional wheat. But nothing’s really changed in the proteins. Trust us on that one. The fact that rates of celiac disease have increased by 400% in the past 50 years is a coincidence.

Yoni Freedhoff, a family doctor and diet expert who runs a nutrition clinic in Ottawa, says the eating guidelines touted in Wheat Belly are similar to other carb-free diets that get results by dramatically reducing the carbohydrates and calories people eat.

He argues that the difference here is Davis, not any miracle cure: “This just took it to another level with a very charismatic doctor, who has a presentation that to me is reminiscent of an evangelical preacher.”

Dr. Davis would be flattered to know he’s considered charismatic, but the news site did its best to minimize the charisma.

More than five years ago, I wrote a long piece about how to bias a news story on my other blog. (If you read it, don’t leave a comment there. That blog is dormant until I have more time.)  The CBC article provides some fine examples, but perhaps I should have mentioned that selecting pictures is also a neat way to color a story. Media outlets do it all the time.

Suppose the president gives a speech demanding some new tax or regulation the media types support. You’ll probably see a picture like this accompanying the story:

Who could possibly oppose a tax or regulation proposed by such a confident-looking leader? We are literally looking up to him in the photo.

Now suppose that after months of the president insisting that if you like your policy, you can keep your policy, it turns out you can’t actually keep your policy – and even the media types are upset (or perhaps just embarrassed that they dutifully repeated the lie without bothering to read the Federal Register and look like shills as a result). When the president faces the press to give his version of a mistakes were made but not by me speech, you’re more likely to see a photo like this:

The confidence is gone, and unless my eyes are deceiving me, we’re even looking down on the man a bit.

Anyway, you get the idea. Picture selection is no accident. Media types choose the picture that conveys their attitude about the subject.

Hi-res video is a great source for getting exactly that picture you want, especially if the subject is talking. When we talk, our mouths adopt funny shapes, our eyes open and close, etc. Take a video of a person talking, I guarantee you can find some unflattering frames. Or some flattering frames. Take your pick.

When I wrote about my interview with Dr. Davis back in December, I chose this frame from a video clip:

Dr. Davis looks intelligent and confident. That was, of course, my intention. Now here’s the shot the CBC people chose for their article:

He looks belligerent and slightly scary … like some evil genius out to destroy the wheat industry.

Back to the article:

But the fact remains that despite the vast majority of scientists and health organizations not supporting much of what Dr. Davis says, more and more people are giving up grains.

Yup. That’s because despite what the vast majority of scientists and health organizations say, people are learning about the benefits of giving up wheat and other grains via the Wisdom of Crowds. They’re trying gluten-free diets, seeing positive results, and sharing those results with the crowd.  They’re ignoring the vast majority of scientists and health organizations because they’re tired of being given advice that doesn’t work.

And there’s nothing the Save The Grain Campaign can do about it.


Comments 132 Comments »

Take a look at this headline from a Shape magazine online article – but I’m warning you, if you’re prone to head-bang-on-desk incidents like I am, you’d best don your helmet before continuing.

Low Carb Diet Linked to Shorter Life Expectancy

That’s the headline.  Here’s the subhead:

If your healthy diet doesn’t include breads, rice, oats, and other whole grains, you may be missing out on a huge health perk, says new science.

And here’s the opening paragraph:

Swearing off carbs may mean forgoing health perks as well: People who ate more whole grains throughout their lives lived longer than those who didn’t, reports a new study in the JAMA Network Journals.

Better eat your bread and other grains, because a low-carb diet is linked to an early death.  That’s the takeaway message.  So obviously, the study being reported by the Shape magazine writer compared low-carb diets to diets rich in whole grains, right?

Wrong.  The study wasn’t about low-carb diets at all.  The headline and the opening paragraph are both complete nonsense.  Hardly a week goes by when I don’t see some goof in the media misinterpret a study (often with help from the researchers), but I ignore most of those articles these days simply because they’re so common.

But this article … wow … I found myself asking the same question I often ask when politicians give speeches:  Is this goofball knowingly dishonest, or just plain stupid?

So let’s put on our Science For Smart People hats and ask some questions about the study that prompted the Shape reporter (and others, no doubt) to conclude that a low-carb diet is linked to shorter life expectancy.

Q: Is this a clinical study or an observational study?

A: It’s an observational study.  Actually, researchers dug data out of two ongoing observational studies.  Here’s a quote from the study abstract:

We investigated 74,341 women from the Nurses’ Health Study (1984–2010) and 43,744 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1986–2010), 2 large prospective cohort studies.

I’ve written about those studies before.  The Reader’s Digest version is that they’re based on occasional food questionnaires, which are notoriously unreliable.  Whenever I see a new analysis of the same old data from either one of these studies, I know it’s time to roll my eyes and walk away.  Move along folks, nothing to see here.  But for the sake of argument, let’s assume food questionnaires are reliable and observational studies actually tell us something useful.

Q: What was the actual difference?

A:  Well, you can refer to the abstract for the details, but here’s what got the researchers and members of the media all excited:

After multivariate adjustment for potential confounders, including age, smoking, body mass index, physical activity, and modified Alternate Healthy Eating Index score, higher whole grain intake was associated with lower total and CVD mortality but not cancer mortality…. We further estimated that every serving (28 g/d) of whole grain consumption was associated with a 5% lower total morality or a 9% lower CVD mortality, whereas the same intake level was nonsignificantly associated with lower cancer mortality.

So people eating whole grains had lower mortality.  Which leads to the next question …

Q:  Compared to what?

A:  Well, from the headline in Shape magazine online, you’d think researchers compared diets rich in whole grains to low-carb diets.  But like I said before, that’s not the case.  All this data shows is that people who ate more whole grains were less likely to die prematurely.  So … if a person eats more whole grains, wouldn’t that mean he or she is eating less of something else?  Which leads us to ask …

Q: If A is linked to B, could it be because of C?

A:  That’s the $64,000 question.  And the answer in this case is almost certainly yes.  Whole grains are associated with better health outcomes, but that’s because people who eat whole grains usually choose them over refined grains.  This study was conducted at Harvard, which trumpeted the results in the media and promoted the idea that there’s something especially health-enhancing about whole grains.  Here’s a quote about the study from a Harvard press release:

“This study further endorses the current dietary guidelines that promote whole grains as one of the major healthful foods for prevention of major chronic diseases,” said Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and senior author of the study.

Wow, so it turns out the government dietary guidelines are correct!  We just proved it here in our government-funded study!  (The NIH funded the study, according to the same press release.)  People who ate more whole grains lived longer, so that proves whole grains — in and of themselves — are good for you.

Uh-huh.  But here are some quotes from a different Harvard press release, commenting on earlier data extracted from the same two observational studies:

Refining wheat creates fluffy flour that makes light, airy breads and pastries. But there’s a nutritional price to be paid for refined grains. The process strips away more than half of wheat’s B vitamins, 90 percent of the vitamin E, and virtually all of the fiber. It also makes the starch easily accessible to the body’s starch-digesting enzymes.

A growing body of research shows that returning to whole grains and other less-processed sources of carbohydrates and cutting back on refined grains improves health in myriad ways.

Eating whole instead of refined grains substantially lowers total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin levels. Any of these changes would be expected to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.

More recent findings from this study (the Nurses’ Health Studies I and II) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study suggest that swapping whole grains for white rice could help lower diabetes risk: Researchers found that women and men who ate the most white rice—five or more servings a week—had a 17 percent higher risk of diabetes than those who ate white rice less than one time a month.

In other words, the supposed magic of whole grains comes down to them being a somewhat better choice than refined grains that jack up blood sugar, triglycerides, insulin, etc.  That tells us absolutely nothing about the health effects of whole grains vs. no grains.

The researchers noted that “replacing” one serving per day of red meat with whole grains was also associated with lower mortality.  I put “replacing” in quotes because people in these studies don’t check a box that says I am now swapping one serving of red meat for one serving of whole grains in my daily diet.  Those daily servings are the result of number-crunching by the researchers.  Their conclusion just means that given what they consider a “serving,” people who ate one serving less of red meat and one serving more of whole grains lived longer.

As I’ve explained before, the “red meat” in these studies most often comes in the form of pizza, burritos, deli sandwiches, hot dogs, etc. – in other words, processed meats that are served with a generous helping of white flour.  So when the researchers inform the media that “replacing” red meat with whole grains was associated with greater longevity, it could simply be the result of comparing people who eat pizza for dinner to people who eat chicken, vegetables and brown rice for dinner.  That doesn’t tell us diddly about what would happen to your health if you swapped a steak for a plate of whole-wheat pasta.

The folks at Harvard may understand that (not that you can tell from their conflicting press releases), but the reporter from Shape magazine clearly doesn’t.  She somehow managed to interpret this study as demonstrating a link between low-carb diets and an early death, even though the data doesn’t deal with low-carb diets at all.

To illustrate the depth of the stupidity, let’s take the smoking analogy I used in Science For Smart People and extend it a bit.  Suppose we conduct an observational study of smokers and find that those who smoke filtered cigarettes have lower rates of lung cancer than those who smoke unfiltered cigarettes.  The proper conclusion is that filtered cigarettes might be a better option than unfiltered cigarettes.  It would be stupid to conclude that our study proves filtered cigarettes are good for you.

But our Shape magazine reporter took that level of stupidity a step further.  To borrow a phrase from the comedy Tropic Thunder, she went full retard.  Her headline is the equivalent of reading a press release about our observational study on smoking and then writing a headline like this:

Non-Smoking Linked To Higher Cancer Rate

Like I said, I can’t tell if she’s being intentionally dishonest or is just plain stupid.  Either way, it’s not comforting to know she writes for a major health and fitness magazine.

You may now bang your head on your desk.


Comments 60 Comments »