Archive for the “Media Misinformation” Category

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.

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It’s January, which means millions of people are either already on a weight-loss diet or considering one.  If you watch TV this time of year, you can’t help but see ads for Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, Weight Watchers and all the other usual suspects.  So many options out there … which one should people choose?

Well, let’s suppose you were offered these choices:

On one plate, you’ve got a slice of grass-fed beef, some eggplant and green vegetables drizzled in olive oil, and perhaps a small sweet potato.  On the other plate — wait, make that in the other glass – you’ve got a brew of FAT FREE MILK, WATER, SUGAR, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), CANOLA OIL, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, FRUCTOSE, GUM ARABIC, CELLULOSE GEL, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, MALTODEXTRIN, SOY LECITHIN, CELLULOSE GUM, CARRAGEENAN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SODIUM BICARBONATE, SUCRALOSE AND ACESULFAME POTASSIUM (NONNUTRITIVE SWEETENERS), SODIUM CITRATE, CITRIC ACID.

That brew in the glass contains 18 grams of sugar, by the way.

So which meal should you choose?  Why, the glass of Slim-Fast, of course.  (How many of you guessed it from the list of ingredients?)

I know the Slim-Fast is a better option because a group of (ahem) experts says so.  Here are some quotes from an article on the NPR site, and from an article in U.S. News:

Despite the buzz about paleo and raw food diets, a new ranking of the 35 top diets puts these two near the bottom of the list.

Why?

I’m guessing it’s because the list was created by a bunch of nutritionists who still believe the same old anti-fat, anti-salt, hearthealthywholegrains nonsense they’ve been preaching for years.

The U.S. News & World Report rankings are based on evaluations by a panel of doctors, nutritionists and other health experts. For each diet, the experts evaluated short-term and long-term weight loss, ease of adherence, and how the advice stacked up against current dietary guidelines.

… and how the advice stacked up against current dietary guidelines.  In other words, the diets may as well have been ranked by the guiding lights at the USDA.

One expert concluded that “a true paleo diet might be a great option: very lean, pure meats, lots of wild plants.” But the problem, according to the report, is that it’s too difficult to follow in modern times.

Well, yes, if you tried to go out and track down a Megaloceros giganteus, you’d be sorely disappointed.  But the paleo diet is about eating nutrient-dense whole foods and avoiding Neolithic foods, not recreating the exact diets of our caveman ancestors.

The experts say that in avoiding dairy, grains and other mainstays of the modern diet, paleo followers may miss out on key nutrients.

Yeah, that’s why Custer kicked ass at Little Big Horn.  The Sioux and Cheyenne were perpetually weak and sick from a lack of dairy, grains, and other mainstays of the modern diet.

The paleo diet, by the way, was ranked 35th out of 35 – you know, because it lacks those mainstays of the modern diet.  The Slim-Fast diet – which requires consuming shakes that contain all those ingredients I listed above, including hydrogenated soybean oil –was ranked 13th.

Meanwhile, a  vegetarian diet was ranked 11th … because while we shouldn’t give up grains and other mainstays of the modern diet, giving up a mainstay of the modern diet is fine and dandy if the mainstay is meat.  And while the paleo diet was ranked last largely because it’s “too difficult to follow in modern times,” apparently switching to a vegetarian diet isn’t difficult at all.

Here’s what the U.S. News article said about the vegetarian diet:

As a health diet, vegetarianism is solid. It’s decent at producing rapid weight loss, according to experts, and is strong in other areas, such as heart health and nutritional completeness, that arguably are more important.

But if you take a vegetarian diet and remove the grains while adding meat, it’s no longer nutritionally complete, according to the (ahem) experts.

As for heart health, well geez, that must explain why vegetarians don’t die of heart disease.  No, wait … I seem to recall that they do.  As I recounted in a previous post, Bill Clinton’s own vegan-promoting doctor warned him against eating bread:

When Caldwell Esselstyn spotted a picture of him on the Internet, eating a dinner roll at a banquet, the renowned doctor dispatched a sharply worded email message: “I’ll remind you one more time, I’ve treated a lot of vegans for heart disease.”

And in another post, I quoted from a study titled Mortality Among British Vegetarians:

The mortality of both the vegetarians and the nonvegetarians in this study is low compared with national rates. Within the study, mortality from circulatory diseases and all causes is not significantly different between vegetarians and meat eaters.

Hmmm, kind of makes you wonder if these diet rankings are a bunch of poppycock.

The U.S. News article included a link to the panel of experts who ranked the diets.  I’ve never heard of most of them, but I have heard of Dr. David Katz.  He created something called the NuVal system, which is supposed to help shoppers choose healthier foods at the grocery store.  Foods are ranked from 100 (excellent) to zero (might just kill you.)  I wrote about NuVal in a previous post.  Here are how some foods rank on Dr. Katz’s NuVal scale:

Post Shredded Wheat ‘N Bran – 91
Silk Soymilk Light – 82
Silk Soy Milk Chocolate – 68
Chicken Breast (boneless) – 39
Turkey Breast – 31
Ham – 27
Coconuts (husked) – 24

So according to Dr. Katz, a big bowl of wheat is an excellent choice.  A cup of chocolate soy milk containing 17 grams of sugar is a good choice.  But a chicken breast, a turkey breast, a slice of ham or a coconut is a bad choice.  No wonder he thinks Slim-Fast is better for you than a paleo diet.

The #1 ranked diet was the DASH diet.  Here’s what U.S. News has to say about it:

DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure, not as an all-purpose diet. But it certainly looked like an all-star to our panel of experts, who gave it high marks for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes, and role in supporting heart health.

The theory: Nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein and fiber are crucial to fending off or fighting high blood pressure. You don’t have to track each one, though. Just emphasize the foods you’ve always been told to eat (fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy), while shunning those we’ve grown to love (calorie- and fat-laden sweets and red meat). Top it all off by cutting back on salt, and voilà!

But if you take way the whole grains and low-fat dairy and add in some red meat, it’s now a paleo diet and the ranking drops from first to last — 22 spots lower than the Slim-Fast diet.  Yeah, that makes perfect sense.  And the extremely low level of salt allowed on the DASH diet is not only unnecessary for most people, it might actually be bad for your health, according to a study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

So here’s what we’ve got with the U.S. News diet rankings:  the same group of idiots who’ve been pushing low-fat, low-salt, low-meat diets for decades were asked to rank diets and – surprise! – they chose the low-fat, low-salt, low-meat diets as the best … which means ordinary folks looking for advice to help them fulfill that New Year’s resolution to lose weight will read that a diet of meats and vegetables isn’t good for them.  Nope, a decent diet is based on meal-replacement shakes that include FAT FREE MILK, WATER, SUGAR, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), CANOLA OIL, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, FRUCTOSE, GUM ARABIC, CELLULOSE GEL, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, MALTODEXTRIN, SOY LECITHIN, CELLULOSE GUM, CARRAGEENAN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SODIUM BICARBONATE, SUCRALOSE AND ACESULFAME POTASSIUM (NONNUTRITIVE SWEETENERS), SODIUM CITRATE, CITRIC ACID.

Head. Bang. On. Desk.

And that’s why the same people will be making the same weight-loss resolution next year.  And the year after that.  And the year after that.

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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.

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Here’s part of what I wrote in a recent post titled Body Types and Brains:

I remember one of my roommates in college looking at the single spiral notebook I took to all my classes and saying, “That’s all the notes you take? How the heck are you getting A’s in everything? You hardly write anything down!”

“Uh, well,” I mumbled, “if the professor says something and it makes sense, I just remember it. I don’t really have to write much of it down.”

That particular roommate was a party animal. I partied right along with him, but only on Thursdays (dollar pitcher night), Fridays (quarter beer night) and Saturdays (student parties all over campus and near-campus).

I had another roommate for half of my senior year who was a studying machine. He not only took copious notes in class, he’d rewrite them all in neat penmanship later.  The notes he took in class were “too messy,” you see.  He attended the occasional party, but never drank much. We graduated with identical grade-point averages: just a fraction under a perfect 4.0/4.0, which means we both got a B in a class at some point. I remember him once asking me, “Why is it that you can party like [the first roommate] and then get the same grades I do?”

“Uh … I don’t know,” I said. “I channel both of you?”

Actually, I explained why I got those grades in the Body Types and Brains post:

I got those grades largely because I’m a “brain mesomorph,” so to speak. Brain mesomorphs can pick pretty much any method of studying and still do well, as long as they don’t do something to screw up that genetic gift – like, say, don’t study at all.

Well, I’ve changed my mind. I now believe I got (almost) straight A’s because I had the discipline to take a few notes in class, study a bit to master the material, turn in my papers on time, and limit my heavy beer-drinking to three nights per week. In fact, I think everyone could pull straight A’s in college if they were just willing to do the same.

To prove my theory, I’m going to re-enroll in college as a one-man experiment. This time around, I’ll drink copious amounts of beer six nights per week, skip the note-taking entirely, not bother studying, and turn in half-assed first drafts of my papers a week late. I suspect this will lead to no better than a C average, perhaps even worse.

If that’s the result, I’ll announce that I’ve proved my theory: anyone who doesn’t do extremely well in college simply isn’t willing to take a few notes, study a bit, and limit the partying to no more than three nights per week. Those B and C students have no one to blame but themselves.

Say what? You think my theory is bogus and my experiment is stupid?

Yes, of course it is. Academic achievement was easy for me, and screwing up on purpose to get average grades proves absolutely nothing about why other people get average grades.

As part of an extra-credit program in high school, I tutored another student who was struggling with freshman algebra. (I was a junior, which means I was taking trigonometry at the time.) This kid certainly put out the effort – more than I ever had to – but had a difficult time wrapping his brain around mathematical concepts. I felt sorry for him … because even at age 17, I had enough common sense not to blame people for being less than genetically gifted.

Unlike this nincompoop:

A woman who intentionally gained 50 pounds wants to demonstrate a point she believes about overweight people: They have only themselves to blame for being heavy.

“People have always said to me, all of my life, ‘You’re lucky to be skinny,’ and what I wanted to prove was that there are no excuses for being overweight,” British reality star Katie Hopkins told TODAY.

Ahh, I see. You’ve always been skinny, so of course you know all about what causes obesity. Are you by any chance related to MeMe Roth?  Your “before” picture suggests as much:

Hmmm, maybe you should get in touch with Heath Squier of Julian Bakery and ask him how to puff out your belly to look a teensy bit fat, then claim you were 35 pounds heavier.  Anyway …

Known across the pond for her acerbic, outspoken comments, Hopkins created a Twitter frenzy when she declared on a British talk show: “I don’t believe you can be fat and happy. I think that’s just a cop out.”

Critics immediately accused Hopkins of “fat shaming” and failing to understand the psychological, as well as physical, factors behind weight gain.

Hopkins then fought back against those who called her ignorant and wrong by eating. A lot. She consumed 6,500 calories every day by stuffing herself with calorie-rich burgers, fries, pasta and cupcakes, recording everything in a food journal. At times, she brought herself to tears because of how much she ate.

“I didn’t cry at childbirth. I didn’t cry at my wedding, but I cried over this because I was just so disgusting,” she said.

So to gain weight, you had to stuff yourself with 6,500 calories per day and eat until you were disgusted and in tears – in other words, waaaaay beyond what your appetite would dictate – just like all fat people do. Geez, and to think some critics actually doubted you understand the physical factors behind weight gain.

Hopkins admits the next step of her experiment has proved to be much more difficult. She’s committed to losing the 50 pounds she gained within three months. She has drastically changed her diet and upped her exercise level, all to prove that being thin is as simple as eating less and moving more.

So it’s a simple matter of eating less and moving more! Well, hell, why didn’t anyone ever tell me that during all those years I was making myself ravenous on low-calorie, low-fat diets and spending hours and hours on a treadmill? Clearly I didn’t try hard enough.

“I’ve learned a lot about how it feels to be big, how difficult it is to be big, how horrible it is to have fat sitting on the top of your thighs, and how much more challenging it is just to do everyday life when you’re bigger,” she said.

Hopkins said she still has 35 pounds left to lose in the next two months.

And I bet she’ll do it – because she’s been skinny her whole life and that’s the shape her body will want to resume.  (Simple math says she already lost 15 pounds in the first month; i.e., nearly four pounds per week.) To quote again from my Body Types and Brains post:

Mesomorphs look well built without setting foot in a gym … Yup. I’ve known people like that. In order to stay lean and muscular, all they really have to do is not screw up.

So this naturally-thin bubblehead screwed up on purpose by jamming 6,500 calories per day of junk food down her throat, thus overwhelming her body’s resistance to gaining weight, and by gosh, she got fat. So that means anyone who’s fat must be screwing up just like she did. Uh-huh … and if I go back to college and party away all my evenings instead of studying and then wind up with average grades as a result, that means anyone who gets C’s in college is a screw-up who parties too much. Same (ahem) logic.

Ms. Hopkins, you were born on the metabolic finish line and think you won a race. Not only that, you think you’re an expert on how the race is won – because you tied your ankles together and proved how difficult it is to run a race in that condition.

What you actually proved is that you’re a flippin’ moron.

Whoops … there I go, making judgments about someone born with a low I.Q.

Sorry about that.

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As you’ve probably heard by now, Tom Hanks recently announced that he has type 2 diabetes. Since Hanks has gained and lost weight for various movie roles, doctors quoted in media articles of course blamed his diabetes on “extreme weight fluctuations.” I’m reasonably sure the doctors weren’t suggesting Hanks developed diabetes by becoming a skinny guy for his roles in Philadelphia and Castaway, so what they’re saying is that he developed diabetes by getting fatter for other roles.

Maybe, maybe not. I vote not. His weight may have fluctuated for various movie roles, but I’ve never seen him on screen on thought, “Wow, Tom Hanks is really getting fat.”

According to what I could find online, Hanks beefed up to 225 pounds for his role as a former baseball player in A League of Their Own. That may sound like a lot of weight to carry around, but take a look at a picture of him from that film:

Sure, he’s got some thickness around the belly there, but that’s all it is: some thickness around the belly. We’re not looking at what I’d call an obese guy in that picture. I wouldn’t even call him a fat guy. He looks like what he was portraying in that film: an ex-jock who’s gotten a bit soft. Despite coming across on camera as a guy with a long-and-lean body type, Tom Hanks has more muscle on him than you might think. Here he is again in Castaway, when his character first landed on the island:

Once again, he’s got a belly … but look at the thickness of his arms and legs. His calves are nearly the size of my thighs. There’s a lot of weight in those legs.  When I saw that film in a theater and there was a scene of him dancing around to celebrate making fire, I remember being impressed with the size of his leg muscles.

If you’ve seen Castaway (good movie), you know that partway through the film, we suddenly jump ahead in time and are shocked to see a totally ripped Tom Hanks – now as a guy who’s been barely surviving on fish and coconuts for years:

If you’d asked me at the time to guess how much he weighed while shooting that section of the film, I would have said 150 pounds. But Hanks weighed 170 pounds in those scenes. He’s six feet tall, so his BMI at that point was just over 23 – in the middle of the “normal” range, despite having almost no body fat. So once again, we’re talking about a guy who is heavier than he looks, thanks to surprisingly thick muscles.

I don’t think temporarily weighing 225 pounds for a film shot in 2000 is the reason he has diabetes in 2013. According to an article on CNN, here’s what his doctor told him:

“I went to the doctor and he said, ‘You know those high blood sugar numbers you’ve been dealing with since you were 36? Well, you’ve graduated,’ ” Hanks told Letterman. ” ‘You’ve got Type 2 diabetes, young man.’ “

He’s had high blood sugar since age 36? Hanks is 57 now. Around age 36, he was shooting Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Those were all after A League of Their Own, and he was a lean guy in all of them – positively skinny, in fact, for his role as a lawyer with AIDS in Philadelphia.

So clearly it’s possible to be quite lean and still have chronically high blood sugar, which is what leads to type 2 diabetes. Here’s another quote from the CNN article:

The “Forrest Gump” star said his condition is manageable through diet, and Letterman said that he too has high blood sugar.

So David Letterman also has high blood sugar, which would classify him as pre-diabetic. Here’s a picture of him from about a year ago:

Does that look like a fat guy to you?  Has David Letterman gone through “extreme weight fluctuations” as part of his career?  I don’t think so.  That’s why I’m opposed to the CDC, the USDA, the AMA and pretty much all the other health “experts” obsessing about how much people weigh with all their talk about the obesity epidemic.  The real epidemic is the number of people walking around with chronically high blood sugar.

I’m happy to report that at least one major media outlet didn’t jump on the “he got diabetes because he was fatter in two movie roles” bandwagon. Here’s a quote from the U.K. Telegraph:

But the link with diabetes isn’t as clear as Hanks, and the doctors who have been wheeled out stateside to support his theory, have made out.

While some studies have suggested that yo-yo dieting might destabilise metabolism and lead to chronic weight gain, with increased risk of heart disease or diabetes, others have been inconclusive. Studies in animals have shown that yo-yo dieting is far better for the body than remaining obese.

Even the link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes isn’t as clear cut as many make out. There are many of relatively normal weight who go on to develop the disease, suggesting that in some cases it can be just “one of those things”.

From his description, it sounds as though Tom Hanks had impaired glucose tolerance (pre-diabetes) for years.

Including long stretches during which he was a lean guy.

I’m glad to hear Hanks plans to manage his diabetes through diet – but I hope it’s not the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association. If it is, someday we’ll be reading more articles about Tom Hanks suffering from the effects of diabetes. I’d much rather read reviews of many more masterful acting performances yet to come.

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Thank goodness for Health.com.  According to an article I read online today, some of my dietary habits are draining me of energy.  Let’s take a look:

Who doesn’t wish for more energy at least a few dozen times a day?

I don’t.  (I hope I’m not alone in that regard. If most people are wishing they had more energy two to three times every hour they’re awake, those zombie movies aren’t as far-fetched as I thought.)

Of course, you know that a good night’s sleep, regular exercise, and effective stress management can give you a much-needed boost. But to further figure out why you’re slumping, you need to pinpoint the energy-sucks in your diet. (Hint: Those low-carb meals aren’t doing you any favors.)

Dangit!  And here I thought my energy level was pretty high for a guy coming up on his 55th birthday.  During the daylight hours last weekend, I spent my time sawing logs, tossing the sawed logs aside to saw more logs, and weed-whacking my way through some briar.  After the sun went down, I programmed some updates to a software package I sell to law firms.  Oh, and I also played 72 holes of disc golf while taking work breaks from the logs.  Now that I know I did all that in an energy-depleted state, I feel kind of foolish.

Anyway, here are the energy-draining mistakes Health.com says I may be making:

You go long stretches without eating

Guilty as charged.

Food Fix: Snack early, snack often

Every time you go more than two hours or so without eating, your blood sugar drops — and that’s bad news for your energy.

Hmmm … as I write, it’s been six hours since my last meal.  So out of curiosity, I pulled the glucose meter out of my desk drawer and checked my blood sugar.  It’s 90 mg/dl.  I’m pretty sure that’s not considered low.  Once or twice per week, I do a 24-hour intermittent fast – dinner one day to dinner the next.  I’ve checked my glucose at the 23-hour mark.  It’s always in the 80-90 mg/dl range.  So I’m thinking if your blood sugar drops to the point where you feel drained just two hours after a meal, it may have something to do with what you eat.

Food supplies the body with glucose, a type of sugar carried in the bloodstream. Our cells use glucose to make the body’s prime energy transporter, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Your brain needs it. Your muscles need it. Every cell in your body needs it.

Time to dig out the books on metabolism again.  I was under the impression most of the cells in our bodies can also burn fatty acids or ketones for fuel.

But when blood sugar drops, your cells don’t have the raw materials to make ATP. And then? Everything starts to slow down. You get tired, hungry, irritable and unfocused.

Tired, hungry, irritable, unfocused … yes, I remember that feeling.  I experienced it rather often when I was on a low-fat diet and depended on regular infusions of carbohydrates to keep my blood sugar up.  Back in those days, I would have been a sucker for advice such as:

Grab a bite every two to four hours to keep blood sugar steady.

I had to take a couple of business calls and answer some emails while writing, so now it’s going on seven hours since my last meal.  According to Health.com, that means I’m at least three hours overdue for a snack .  I’d better check my blood sugar again.  Hang on a second …

… Uh-oh.  My glucose has plummeted to 89.  Anyway, on to the next mistake and fix.

Your breakfast is too “white bread”

Energy, thine enemy is a sugary breakfast: pancakes, white toast, muffins and the like. Instead, start your day with soluble fiber (found in oatmeal, barley and nuts).

“It dissolves in the intestinal tract and creates a filter that slows the absorption of sugars and fats,” explains Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale Prevention Research Center and author of “Disease Proof.”

In fact, research shows that choosing a breakfast with either soluble fiber or insoluble fiber — the kind in whole-grain breads and waffles — actually protects against blood sugar spikes and crashes later in the day.

Well, there’s my problem.  I don’t eat whole-grain breads or waffles for breakfast.  If I eat breakfast at all, it’s eggs and some kind of meat.  But I often skip breakfast because I’m just not hungry.  Part of the reason I’m not hungry is that my glucose is always in the 80-90 range when I wake up.  Since Health.com has informed me that going without eating for more than four hours will cause low glucose, I’m considering setting up the video camera in our kitchen so I can catch myself raiding the refrigerator while sleep-walking.

A smart start: cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber a serving and whole-grain breads with 2g per slice.

Yeah, start your day with cereal or bread.  Then grab a snack within the next two to four hours, because your blood sugar will be dropping.  I wonder if there’s a connection?

The next two mistakes the article lists are eating the wrong kinds of vegetables and avoiding red meat entirely.  No complaints there.  But here’s the final mistake and suggested fix:

You’ve cut one too many carbs

Food Fix: Hello, whole-wheat pasta and potatoes!

Carbs help your body burn fat without depleting muscle stores for energy.

So if you keep raising your glucose every two to four hours so every cell in your body can burn glucose for energy without even tapping your glycogen stores, your body ends up burning fat.  Makes sense.

The ideal diet is 50 to 55% complex carbohydrates, 20 to 25% protein and 25% fat.

In a Tufts University study, women on a carbs-restricted diet did worse on memory-based tasks compared with women who cut calories but not carbs. And when the low-carb group introduced them back into their diet, their cognitive skills leveled out.

I see.  So here’s the advice in a nutshell:

  1. Start your day with cereal, bread or waffles.
  2. When your blood sugar plummets two hours or so after eating the cereal, bread or waffles, have a snack to raise your blood sugar.
  3. When your blood sugar drops two hours or so after eating the snack that raised your blood sugar, have another snack to raise your blood sugar.  By constantly raising your blood sugar to make sure you burn glucose for fuel, you end up burning fat.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until your next meal — which should be 50-55% carbohydrates to make sure your body produces enough blood sugar.
  5. When your blood sugar drops two hours or so after eating a meal that’s 50-55% carbohydrate (to make sure you produce enough blood sugar), have a snack to raise your blood sugar.
  6. Research at Tufts University shows that after conditioning yourself to require a carbohydrate snack every two hours or so to keep your blood sugar from plummeting, cutting back on carbohydrates will cause your blood sugar to plummet — which means you’ll do worse on memory-based tasks.  So don’t cut back on the carbohydrates.
  7. If you  accidentally forget to eat carbohydrates every two hours or so and your blood sugar plummets and causes you to do worse on memory-based tasks, eat more carbohydrates to raise your blood sugar and level out your cognitive abilities.  But don’t forget to have a snack two hours later to raise your blood sugar after it starts dropping, or you’ll become stupid again.

That advice makes no sense to me.  But that’s probably because it’s now been seven hours since my last meal, and my glucose has plummeted to 89 mg/dl.

p.s. – After I wrote this post, we had dinner:  a chef salad with lettuce, onions, eggs, cauliflower, bacon, bits of cheddar cheese, tomatoes from the garden, Italian sausage chunks and a bacon grease/white wine vinegar dressing.  My glucose an hour later is 105 mg/dl.  I don’t expect to need a snack two hours from now.

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