I believe the American Heart Association was founded with good intentions. Really, I do. But they’ve become a perfect example of the phenomenon described in the excellent book Mistake Were Made (but not by me): after announcing a public position on an issue, they are incapable of admitting they were wrong.
On their web site, they recommend consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. That’s been their position for years. Since the average American consumes more like 3,500 mg of sodium per day, that means the AHA is telling us to cut our salt intake by more than half to avoid hypertension and, by extension, heart disease. (We’ll come back to that “by extension” part.)
The AHA certainly isn’t alone in pushing this advice. The Guy From CSPI has been on an anti-salt jihad for decades, the USDA Dietary Guidelines call for low-salt meals (the USDA compels schools to comply with that advice), and of course Hizzoner Da Mayor in New York City used the coercive power of government to impose his beliefs about the benefits of sodium restriction on food manufacturers.
So how do you suppose the anti-salt hysterics would respond to a big ol’ government-sanctioned study that says they’re wrong? I’m pretty sure you can guess. Let’s look at some quotes from a New York Times article titled No Benefit Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet:
In a report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by the government says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines.
Those levels, 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, or a little more than half a teaspoon of salt, were supposed to prevent heart attacks and strokes in people at risk, including anyone older than 50, blacks and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease — groups that make up more than half of the American population.
But the new expert committee, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine at the behest of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there was no rationale for anyone to aim for sodium levels below 2,300 milligrams a day. The group examined new evidence that had emerged since the last such report was issued, in 2005.
“As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee and a professor of public health at the University of Pennsylvania. He explained that the possible harms included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death.
Say what? A low-salt diet may increase the risk of heart attacks and death? You mean the AHA is recommending we reduce our salt intake to a level that may be dangerous? Well, take a peek at some of the evidence Dr. Strom’s committee considered (the bold emphasis is mine):
One 2008 study the committee examined, for example, randomly assigned 232 Italian patients with aggressively treated moderate to severe congestive heart failure to consume either 2,760 or 1,840 milligrams of sodium a day, but otherwise to consume the same diet. Those consuming the lower level of sodium had more than three times the number of hospital readmissions — 30 as compared with 9 in the higher-salt group — and more than twice as many deaths — 15 as compared with 6 in the higher-salt group.
Oh, dear. In a randomized study, the Italians who reduced their sodium intake to levels that are still slightly above what the AHA recommends had more than double the death rate. Pass the salt shaker, please, and let’s read on:
Another study, published in 2011, followed 28,800 subjects with high blood pressure ages 55 and older for 4.7 years and analyzed their sodium consumption by urinalysis. The researchers reported that the risks of heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure and death from heart disease increased significantly for those consuming more than 7,000 milligrams of sodium a day and for those consuming fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day.
Got that? The death rate was higher for people who consumed less than 3,000 mg of sodium per day – and the AHA recommends cutting even that level of consumption in half.
So what about the higher death rate among people who consumed more than 7,000 mg per day? Well, I can think of a couple of possibilities. Perhaps that much sodium (double the average intake in the U.S.) truly is dangerous. On the other hand, that’s a LOT of salt to sprinkle on your grass-fed beef, pastured eggs and spinach, so perhaps people who consume that much sodium are the same people who eat a lot of processed food — in all its sugar-and-flour-laden glory. A super-high sodium intake could just be a proxy for a bad diet in general.
So why might too little salt in the diet be dangerous? Read on:
There are physiological consequences of consuming little sodium, said Dr. Michael H. Alderman, a dietary sodium expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who was not a member of the committee. As sodium levels plunge, triglyceride levels increase, insulin resistance increases, and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system increases. Each of these factors can increase the risk of heart disease.
“Those are all bad things,” Dr. Alderman said. “A health effect can’t be predicted by looking at one physiological consequence. There has to be a net effect.”
Dr. Alderman, if memory serves, once warned that a national effort to force us to consume less sodium would be a giant, uncontrolled experiment that could have unintended negative consequences. Kudos to him. We all know what happened with the giant, uncontrolled experiment to remove saturated fats from our diets and replace the calories with grains and vegetable oils.
Anyway, now that a committee created specifically to study the effects of sodium has said there’s no evidence to support pushing low-salt diets on us, let’s see how the people pushing low-salt diets on us are handling the bad news:
Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that has taken a strong position against excessive salt consumption, worried that the public would get the wrong message.
“It would be a shame if this report convinced people that salt doesn’t matter,” Ms. Liebman said.
Allow me to interpret Ms. Liebman’s statement: We’ve been trying to scare people about salt for decades, so it would be a shame if people interpreted a report saying that their current level of salt intake is fine to mean “our current level of salt intake is fine.”
The American Heart Association agrees with her. Dr. Elliott Antman, a spokesman for the association and a professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said the association remained concerned about the large amount of sodium in processed foods, which makes it almost impossible for most Americans to cut back. People should aim for 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, he said.
“The American Heart Association is not changing its position,” Dr. Antman said.
Of course you’re not changing your position, Dr. Antan. That would require you to admit you’ve been wrong for decades. I’m guessing you’d rather rip your own ears off than do that.
The association rejects the Institute of Medicine’s conclusions because the studies on which they were based had methodological flaws, he said. The heart association’s advice to consume 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, he added, is based on epidemiological data and studies that assessed the effects of sodium consumption on blood pressure.
I’ve seen the AHA’s explanation of how the epidemiological evidence supports their position elsewhere. Here it is in a nutshell: studies show drastically reducing salt intake can slightly reduce blood pressure, and high blood pressure is associated with heart disease, so that proves reducing salt would reduce heart disease.
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you recognize that (ahem, ahem) logic for what it is: teleoanalysis. We can’t prove that A causes C, but if we can link A to B and B to C, we can say A causes C.
High blood pressure is indeed associated with heart disease, but that doesn’t prove high blood pressure causes heart disease directly, and it certainly doesn’t prove that restricting salt would prevent heart disease. As Dr. Richard Johnson has demonstrated in several experiments, hypertension can result from an excess intake of sugar. It could be that sugar raises blood pressure and also causes heart disease by damaging the endothelial layer in our arteries.
If too much salt causes heart disease and restricting salt therefore reduces heart disease, we should see that relationship directly, not through goofball teleoanalysis. But we don’t:
The Institute of Medicine committee said it was well aware of flaws in many of the studies of sodium, especially ones that the previous Institute of Medicine committee relied on for its 2005 recommendations. Much of that earlier research, committee members said, looked for correlations between what people ate and their health. But people with different diets can differ in many ways that are hard to account for — for example, the amount of exercise they get. And relying on people’s recall of how much salt they consumed can be unreliable.
The committee said it found more recent studies, published since 2005, that were more careful and rigorous. Much of the new research found adverse effects on the lower end of the sodium scale and none showed a benefit from consuming very little salt.
Although the advice to restrict sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day has been enshrined in dietary guidelines, it never came from research on health outcomes, Dr. Strom said.
Anti-salt hysteria was never based on studies of actual health outcomes. Neither was anti-fat hysteria. Yet the American Heart Association pushes both … along with sugary, grain-based cereals that almost certainly do actual damage to our health.
I don’t expect the AHA to ever change its position – on anything – no matter what the evidence. As I said during a Q&A session after a speech when someone asked me how we can get the AHA, or the USDA, or the ADA to change their positions on diet: my goal isn’t to change their minds, because I don’t believe that’s possible. My goal is to make them irrelevant by convincing people to ignore them.
One of the silliest arguments against eating meat offered by vegan zealots is that cattle cause global warming. Their argument boils down to two (incorrect or meaningless) points:
1. Trees are cut down to produce the crops required to feed cattle.
2. Cow farts add so much methane to the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect is amplified.
Trees may indeed be cut down to produce crops, but of course vegans consume crops – where do they think their whole-wheat pastas and soybean burgers come from, anyway? As Lierre Keith argued so eloquently in The Vegetarian Myth, it’s monocrop farming that’s damaging the environment, and vegetarians regularly consume the products of monocrop farming: corn, wheat, soybeans, etc.
I once responded to a vegetrollian who accused me of ruining the planet with my carnivorous diet by spelling out two scenarios:
1. A local farmer raises cattle on grass. During their lives, the cattle produce new topsoil by pooping on the ground. They require no fertilizer to grow, and they fertilize the soil naturally. When it’s time to turn the cattle into burgers and steaks, they’re driven a short distance to a local slaughterhouse, then the meat is driven a short distance to a local store, where I buy some of it and take it home to my freezer.
2. A farmer somewhere in Iowa grows soybeans, which requires massive amounts of fertilizers made from oil shipped in from the Middle East. The soybeans also require pesticides. The fertilizers and pesticides run off into local streams and rivers, poisoning the water and killing the marine life. The soybeans are then piled onto a gas-guzzling truck and shipped a long distance to an Archer Daniels Midland plant, where they’re processed into soy burgers. The soy burgers are then placed on another gas-guzzling truck and shipped to a grocery store in California, where our vegan buys them and convinces himself he’s saving the planet by eating them.
The vegetrollian never responded to my two scenarios.
The cow-fart issue is, of course, simply ridiculous. In response to yet another vegetrollian who raised that issue, I mentioned two points:
1. The Great Plains were once home to millions of buffalo, yet their methane production somehow failed to push the planet into a permanent warming cycle.
2. Given that vegetarians live on grains and beans, they’re probably major methane producers themselves. I certainly was during my vegetarian days … although it never occurred to me that I might be warming the planet.
Once again, no response from the vegetrollian.
As illogical as these beliefs are (especially the cow-fart issue), I’m not surprised that so many vegans have adopted them. As I’ve said before, many vegans are akin to religious zealots, and their beliefs are essentially religious. Raising cattle for the purpose of eating them is evil, so there must be evil consequences. The only problem is that those beliefs don’t hold up to science.
In the past environmentalists, from Lord Stern to Sir Paul McCartney, have urged people to stop eating meat because the methane produced by cattle causes global warming.
Sir Paul has written some fantastic songs, so enjoy those. Just don’t take his advice on diet.
However a new study found that cattle grazed on the grasslands of China actually reduce another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.
Authors of the paper, published in Nature, say the research does not mean that producing livestock to eat is good for the environment in all countries. However in certain circumstances, it can be better for global warming to let animals graze on grassland.
I’d say it’s a lot better for the planet to let animals graze on grassland. More on that later.
Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, carried out the study in Inner Mongolia in China. He found that grassland produced more nitrous oxide during the spring thaw when sheep or cattle have not been grazing. This is because the greenhouse gas, also known as laughing gas, is released by microbes in the soil. When the grass is long snow settles keeping the microbes warm and providing water, however when the grass is cut short by animals the ground freezes and the microbes die. Related Articles
Dr Butterbach-Bahl said the study overturned assumptions about grazing goats and cattle.
“It’s been generally assumed that if you increase livestock numbers you get a rise in emissions of nitrous oxide. This is not the case,” he said.
Plant-based diets are generally seen as healthy – but they are not necessarily the healthiest diets for the environment, according to new French research.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the nutritional value of the self-reported diets of nearly 2,000 French adults and compared dietary composition with estimates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated by the ingredients’ production.
Per 100 grams, the researchers found that animal products like meat, poultry, dairy, fish and eggs were indeed associated with much higher GHG emissions than fruits, vegetables and starchy foods. However, despite containing larger amounts of plant-based foods, diets of the highest nutritional quality were not necessarily the lowest in GHG emissions.
Due to ease of transportation and storage, and relative lack of waste, the least healthy foods, like sweets and salted snacks, were associated with some of the lowest emissions on an energy basis.
The researchers used a database to estimate GHG emissions per 100 grams of each food for the 400 most commonly consumed foods within the sample population. But when they looked at what people ate to meet their energy needs, they found the ‘healthiest’ diets – defined as those high in fruit, vegetables and fish – were associated with about the same level of emissions as the least healthy diets.
They explained that it was necessary to eat far more low-energy food in order to meet daily energy needs.
“Altogether, our results therefore seem to contradict the widely accepted view that diets that are good for health are also good for the planet,” they wrote.
I disagree with their belief that plant-based diets are the healthiest, but you get the idea: 100 grams of broccoli may require less energy to produce than 100 grams of chicken, but the 100 grams of chicken will provide a lot more energy. (Good luck eating enough broccoli to feel full.)
The researchers noted that red meat requires the most energy to produce and therefore has the greatest impact on the environment. Well, that depends on how it’s raised, doesn’t it? There’s a lot more to environmental impact that just energy use. Below I’ve embedded a TED talk that several readers recommended. Look at what this scientist (who has enough integrity to admit his previous beliefs were wrong) has to say about the effects of livestock on the planet:
I recommended that speech to yet another vegetrollian who showed up on the blog this week to lecture me about how eating meat will ruin the planet. (She also assured me she’s a “happy vegan,” then expressed her hope that John Nicholson, author of The Meat Fix, dies of a coronary soon. Yeah, that’s the kind of wish a happy person makes.)
No reply from the vegetrollian on the TED talk so far.
If you’re a sympathetic sort, you could almost feel sorry for people who work for the American Heart Association, the British Heart Foundation, the Australian Heart Foundation, etc. They’ve been promoting anti-fat hysteria for more than 40 years now, people have dutifully cut back on their saturated fat intake and consumed more “heart-healthy” grains, and yet our societies are witnessing record rates of obesity and diabetes. Even if these organization believe their advice is correct, I don’t see how they could feel successful in their missions.
But of course, their advice isn’t correct.
I’m not a big fan of observational studies, but since the American Heart Association likes to cite them as evidence, here’s a conclusion several observational studies have reached: when people replace saturated fats with refined carbohydrates, their rate of heart disease goes up, not down. Clinical studies show that refined carbohydrates raise triglycerides, and high triglycerides at at least associated with heart disease, if not an actual cause. And yet for decades now, the AHA has been putting its stamp of approval on products like the ones shown below.
Let’s look at the (ahem) nutrition in some of these heart-protecting foods. In a serving size that provides just 118 calories (boy, that’ll get you through the morning, won’t it?), Honey Nut Cheerios contain 23 grams of refined carbohydrates. Almost 10 of those grams are pure sugar. A cup of West Soy vanilla soy milk contains 21 grams of carbohydrates, including 10 grams of sugar. The instant oatmeal contains 31 carbohydrates including 12 grams of sugar, and the V-8 fusion juice may as well be a Coca-Cola: 25 grams of sugar in one cup.
So well-meaning people filling their grocery carts with products bearing the American Heart Association’s seal of approval could easily end up on a diet high in refined starches and sugars and think they’re doing their hearts a favor. I’m sure many have.
Meanwhile, more and more studies are suggesting that the whole arterycloggingsaturatedfat! theory was wrong. I just posted on one of those last week.
So image you’re a dedicated member of the American Heart Association. Evidence is piling up that the advice your organization has been handing out since the 1960s not only didn’t help, it probably caused actual harm. What can you do?
Well, you could call a press conference or take out ads in national newspapers and announce that you’ve been wrong all along, but that would likely spell the end of your organization. It would also mean looking yourself in the mirror and saying, “Oh my god … have I been promoting foods that turned people into fat diabetics? Have kids been diagnosed with ADHD and sent to special-ed classes because I told their parents Honey Nut Cheerios are a heart-healthy food? Have I told people to eat foods that sent their triglycerides through the roof and caused their bodies to produce small LDL particles? Has my advice killed people?”
Nope. You won’t do that. You probably can’t do that.
Once we’ve taken a public position, it’s very difficult to admit we were wrong.
Psychologically, most of us need to believe we’re both good people and good decision-makers.
We are quite capable of fooling ourselves into believing things that simply aren’t true, even if that means ignoring clear evidence.
The book provides interesting (and unfortunately common) examples of those points in action. What happens when, say, a woman marries a guy who turns out to be an abusive creep? She runs out and gets a divorce, right?
Nope. Odds are she’ll spend years with the guy before dumping him, if she dumps him at all. Think about the three points above. When you get married, you’ve made a dramatic public statement: this is the one. It would be embarrassing to admit to your family and friends a year later that your marriage was a huge mistake – telling them, in effect, that in making perhaps the most important decision of your life, you chose badly. (I broke off an engagement in my early 30s, so I know all about that one.)
So the abused wife can, against all evidence, convince herself that her husband is actually a decent guy. Sure, he’s abusive, but it’s not really his fault. He’s just under a lot of stress, you see. It’s because other people treat him badly. It may even be her fault for aggravating him. And he’s nice to her once or twice per month, and that’s the real him, you see. He just needs more time and few breaks, and he’ll be nice all the time.
Another example the book gives is police and prosecutors who arrest an innocent man and send him to prison, only to see him exonerated years later by DNA evidence. You’d expect the prosecutors to say to themselves, “Wow, that’s horrible. We put an innocent guy away.” You’d also be wrong. Despite the large number of people who have been exonerated by new evidence, it’s exceedingly rare for a prosecutor to admit he or she put the wrong man in prison. As the authors recount, most prosecutors are still convinced – despite the evidence – that the guy they put away was guilty.
Once again, we’re talking about people who took a very public position (ladies and gentlemen, this is guy who committed the crime) and who need to think of themselves as good people (I’m the good guy because I put away bad guys.) To protect themselves psychologically, they can explain away the evidence that they were wrong. The alternative is to look in the mirror and admit they ruined an innocent person’s life, not to mention his family’s life.
As the authors note, people who insist they were right all along even when the evidence says they’re wrong aren’t usually lying. To lie, you have to know what you’re saying isn’t true. These people truly believe they’re right. That pesky new DNA evidence was probably planted, you see. The lab made a mistake. The guy committed the murder, but the DNA that doesn’t match his was left behind by an accomplice we didn’t know about. The guy we put in prison is guilty, damnit. Never mind the fact that the DNA left behind on the victim doesn’t match. You have to look at the totality of the evidence.
The American Heart Association and its sister organizations have been spreading arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria for decades – in effect, prosecuting the innocent. They’ve recommended processed vegetables oils instead of animal fats. They’ve taken very public positions warning people away from high-fat foods and promoting breads, cereals, pastas, juices, and other foods low in fat but high in carbohydrates. And of course, they think of themselves as the good guys.
So no, they’re not going to admit they were wrong. They’re not going admit their advice may have killed people. They’re incapable of believing that. They’re going to show up in media articles and TV shows and blogs and insist they were right all along. Never mind that latest study, they’ll insist. You have to look at the totality of the evidence.
Actually, no, we don’t have to look at the totality of the evidence. We just need to examine some key evidence that falsifies their theories. I’ll cover that in my next post.
I’ll start by commenting on the title of this post: I don’t hate vegans. The title comes from a headline over a letter posted on another web site. We’ll come back to that.
I don’t even dislike most vegans. I suspect most of them are nice people who choose that lifestyle for whatever reason and don’t concern themselves with what other people decide to eat. Some years ago, Chareva and I went out for breakfast and ran into an actress I knew and her live-in boyfriend. We decided to get a table for four. I knew from previous conversations that the actress was a vegan … so imagine my surprise when her boyfriend ordered bacon and eggs.
“Uh … you eat meat?” I asked.
“Yeah, I eat meat. Why?”
“Oh, I see what you’re asking,” the actress chimed in. “I’m a vegan. He’s not.”
Since these two had lived together for a long time and owned a house together, I’m pretty sure she didn’t follow him around accusing him of being a murderer or predicting his demise from all kinds of meat-induced health disasters. She was a vegan, but clearly not a zealot. It’s the zealots I can’t stand.
Vegan zealots are the dietary equivalent of religious zealots who show up at your door uninvited and try to convert you, warning you of hell to come if you don’t listen. They can’t just happily keep to themselves, because they’re convinced the heathens must be saved. I posted the follow-up section of Fat Head on YouTube last week, and sure enough (as I would have predicted), we’ve now got what the Older Brother refers to as a vegetrollian showing up to preach.
I believe low-carb and/or paleo diets can help people overcome all kinds of health problems. That’s why I produced Fat Head. That’s why I write blog posts. I’m happy to provide as much information as I can for anyone who comes here looking for answers – and lots of people have found answers here, judging by the comments and emails I receive.
But in spite of their successes (not to mention mine), I don’t believe everyone has to go on a low-carb diet, I don’t deny that people can become lean and healthy on other kinds of diets, and I sure as heck don’t go trolling vegetarian blogs and web sites trying to convert them and predicting their physical demise if they don’t listen to me. I’m an advocate, not a zealot.
After some vegan zealots physically attacked Lierre Keith a few years ago, I wrote an essay on my other blog (which I’ve been ignoring lately) comparing them to what philosopher and author Eric Hoffer labeled The True Believer in his book by the same name. Here’s part of what I wrote:
Hoffer labeled these people the True Believers. The need to believe in something — completely, and without question — defines their lives, because fanaticism makes them feel special and important.
Not surprisingly, then, the biggest threat to their identities is doubt. All contrary evidence must be stifled or rationalized out of existence. All logical inconsistencies in their beliefs must be ignored. Anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs is an enemy, and anyone who raises questions about their beliefs must be silenced. (But enough about Al Gore.)
Now, doesn’t that description sound just a wee bit like a militant vegan? Ego boost? Heck yes … I’m now a morally superior human being because I don’t eat animal products. Sense of identity? Gee, do you think?
I once asked a waitress in a restaurant if the pork chops were any good. Turning up her nose just a bit, she replied, “I wouldn’t know. I’m a vegan.” I’m mildly hard of hearing, so at first I thought she said, “I wouldn’t know. I’m a virgin.” After some momentary confusion, mentally rifling through my old catechism lessons looking for a prohibition against virgins eating pork, I figured it out. Either way, it was more than I cared to know about her. “I’ve never tried them” would’ve sufficed.
And here are some quotes from Hoffer’s book:
A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.
In order to be effective a doctrine must not be understood, but has to be believed in. We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand.
The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than a deep conviction. The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without.
In short, True Believers like to stick their noses in other people’s business and never let little annoyances like logic or observable facts shake their beliefs. As Hoffer wrote, True Believers are impervious to facts.
The True Believer currently trolling the comments section on the video desperately needs to believe that eating animal protein makes people fat and sick. He also desperately needs to believe that nobody ever got fat or sick on a vegetarian diet. So he (could be a she, but I’m going with he) simply ignores the actual video, which clearly shows how much leaner I am now than I was in my 30s – when I was a vegetarian. He also ignores the before-and-after pictures I put in the video.
One of those before-and-after shots is of a reader and occasional commenter named Rae. Here’s part of what Rae wrote when she sent me those pictures.
I wanted you to know now I’ve lost nearly 80 lbs since Fat Head made me re-think everything I had ever learned about food and nutrition. I wish it had been around 10 years ago so I wouldn’t have wasted my 20s being an obese depressed vegetarian.
An obese vegetarian? Eighty pounds lighter now after going low-carb? No, no, no, that doesn’t happen. Just ask the True Believer.
Other people have left comments like these on the video:
Fat Head the documentary and Gary Taubes changed my life. I went onto a ketogenic diet (Very strict in Carbohydrates, sub 20g a day) and lost over 40 pounds (210 to 170) in three months. The contradictory part is, I did the entire thing from June to September meaning I was not in school, had no work, and literally sat on my ass playing video games 12-13 hours a day.
I’ve lost 80 pounds after watching Fat Head (still trying to lose another 50) and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. I can’t thank you enough Tom for making Fat Head.
Watched Fat Head on November 12th. Went low carb November 13th. Thank you — 60lbs lost / 70 to go.
Naturally, the vegan True Believer can see these testimonials right there in front of his face and still insist that low-carb diets make people fat and sick. Tell a vegan True Believer that I was a fat vegetarian and have personally known vegans who had major health problems, and he’ll simply deny that I was ever really a vegetarian. Same goes for anyone else who claimed to health problems on a vegan or vegetarian diet. They weren’t really vegetarians or vegans, you see, because if they were, they’d be lean and healthy. (I guess that explains why Linda McCartney and Davey Jones both lived to a ripe old age.)
I compare vegan zealots to religious zealots because I’m convinced the thought process is basically the same: Everyone who eats a high-meat diet is committing a sin and must suffer – and all vegans must be lean and healthy as a reward for their virtuousness. No one gets healthy on a meat-based diet, and no one gets fat or sick from a meat-free diet. We know this because our vegan bible tells us so. Scientific evidence to the contrary must be ignored.
Now, back to where I got the title for this post. When I was logging articles and studies into my new database over the holidays, I came across a post titled See, this is why people hate vegans on a site called PassiveAgressiveNotes.com. This particular note was written by a recently-converted vegan and left on her roommate’s beside table. It’s a bit difficult to read on the site, so I’ve reproduced it below with my comments interspersed.
I have to say, I thought you were a lot smarter and considerate than you have proven yourself to be. You are very well aware that I’ve been getting more and more serious about my veganism, and over the past few weeks I’ve insinuated several times that I feel uncomfortable having animal products in our house.
You became a vegan, so now your roommate has to stop bringing meat into the house? Couldn’t you have just become an orthodox Jew and demanded she stop buying bacon?
The reason I’ve settled with merely implying these feelings is to avoid an argument, awkward conversation, or irritated note such as this one.
Notes don’t get irritated, tofu-brain. People do … like when they receive preachy notes from their roommates.
But after seeing your latest haul from the supermarket, I have to be blunt with you.
Oh boy, here comes the sermon …
Yes, I know that we live in a world where we’re all supposed to be “tolerant.” However, I believe we have to stick up for our beliefs and draw the line somewhere.
Is this where you announce that you’re moving out to stand up for your beliefs?
If you knew that a neighbor of yours was abusing their child, would you turn a blind eye and be “tolerant” of it? Would you say that your neighbor simply has a different world view than your own? I doubt it. Same with me.
Please, feel free to call 911 and report the slaughter of pigs and cows at the nearest slaughterhouse.
I can no longer tolerate seeing meat, eggs, dairy, honey, or any other products from animals in our kitchen or anywhere else in our apartment. Do you understand?
When you try to impose your beliefs on your roommate, you come across like a member of some vegan Hezbollah, even if you underline your sentences to emphasize how important they are. Do you understand?
I’m truly disappointed by your lack of respect for my feelings and morals. You could at the very least eat these things away from me, like when you’re out of the house. You could have done it in your room. That second suggestion isn’t an option anymore, though, since I told you I will not allow these foods anywhere in the house.
Way to demonstrate respect for your roommate’s feelings, tofu-brain. Sure, I’ll allow you to eat meat – as long as you don’t do it in the house.
Why do you buy so much meat?
Uh … because it’s awesome?
You buy chicken, steaks, ground beef, and tasty “snacks” like Slim Jims, beef jerky, spam, and sardine cans.
Say, is your roommate single by any chance? Oh, wait … I’m already married.
This is a waste. I can guarantee that you will not eat even half of these things.
That’s because you won’t let her eat them in the house.
Please think about changing your diet. I realize that you will probably continue being a meat eater outside of our apartment, but let that small grain of doubt lead you to a better path. You can still have great-tasting food as a vegan. You’ll probably want to start slow as a vegetarian and take it from there.
Nice of you to ease her into it gently when you’re demanding she switch to your belief system.
It was a long, passionate letter, but I think the appropriate reply would only require two words. You can probably guess what they are.
It occurred to me today that three years ago I put together a YouTube video about label laws. Since a huge chunk of our readership came on board in the past year and probably missed it, here it is again:
Starting next week, if you want to know how many calories are in a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (750) in comparison to a plain hamburger (250), you’ll only need to glance up at the menu.
See, that’s been the missing ingredient all along: in-your-face calorie counts. Experts on human metabolism ranging from Morgan Spurlock to MeMe Roth to Mayor Michael Bloomberg realized long ago that people who want to lose weight can’t be bothered to look at an easily-accessible menu or go online to find out how many calories they’re consuming. So the experts have been pushing for calorie-count menu boards for years as a solution to obesity. Now they’ll finally see their dream come true.
The fast-food giant announced this morning that they’ll voluntarily begin posting calorie information on all menu boards, including the drive-thru. The move is expected to send rival chains scrambling to do the same.
And we don’t need to concern ourselves with any nanny-state interference because the move by McDonald’s was voluntary, you see. Or was it?
McDonald’s says they’re just trying to help customers and employees make informed nutritional choices, but skeptics say the move isn’t purely based on concern over health concerns and skyrocketing obesity rates.
“The decision to post calorie information follows the Supreme Court’s decision this summer to uphold President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which includes a regulation that would require restaurant chains with more than 20 locations to post calorie information. The timetable for carrying out that requirement has yet to be worked out,” writes Candice Choi for the Associated Press.
In other words, McDonald’s volunteered to post calorie information because the federal government told them they were going to volunteer. I’ll bet when my grandfather was drafted to fight in the Pacific during World War II, he didn’t realize he was actually a volunteer.
Setting aside the ridiculousness of “voluntary” compliance with nanny-state laws, the question is: will posting calorie counts on menus make any difference? Will those menus prompt fat people to eat less overall and lose weight?
No, of course they won’t. The busybodies who want us all confronted with calorie counts are assuming that fat people aren’t aware of how much they eat. If they could just be informed that they’re overeating, then by gosh, they’ll eat less and lose weight. That makes about as much sense as suggesting that if I just put less gas in my car, I’ll get better gas mileage.
People whose hormones have put them in fat-accumulation mode aren’t in a state of energy balance unless they’re eating more and getting fatter. And once they’re fat, they can’t remain in a state of energy balance — homeostasis — unless they remain fat. As Gary Taubes explained in Good Calories, Bad Calories:
Clinicians who treat obese patients invariably assume that the energy or caloric requirements of these individuals is the amount of calories they can consume without gaining weight. They then treat this number as though it were fixed by some innate facet of the patient’s metabolism. Pennington explained that this wasn’t the case. As long as obese individuals have this metabolic defect and their cells are not receiving the full benefit of the calories they consume, their tissues will always be conserving energy and so expending less than they otherwise might. The cells will be semi-starved even if the person does not appear to be. Indeed, if these individuals are restraining their desire to curb, if possible, still further weight gain, the inhibition of energy expenditure will be exacerbated.
Pennington suggested that as the adipose tissue accumulates fat, its expansion will increase the rate at which fat calories are released back into the bloodstream … and this could eventually compensate for the defect itself. We will continue to accumulate fat – and so continue to be in positive energy balance – until we reach a new equilibrium and the flow of fat calories out of the adipose tissue once again matches the flow of calories in.
Until and unless obese people fix the hormonal imbalance that drives fat accumulation, they will continue the “over-eating” that’s required to stay in a state of energy balance. Eating less at one meal simply leads to eating more at another, and vice versa. That is, in fact, what the research shows: when people consume a high-calorie meal at a restaurant, they eat smaller meals afterwards. Over the course of a week, they end up consuming a remarkably consistent number of calories, whether they eat any big restaurant meals or not. So perhaps we shame them into ordering a smaller meal at McDonald’s with those in-your-face calorie counts … the end result will be a bigger meal or a snack later.
But that’s assuming the calorie-count menus will prompt people to order smaller meals in the first place. The evidence so far certainly doesn’t support that idea. New York City started requiring calorie-count menus in 2008. A study conducted a year later concluded those menus weren’t affecting what people ordered, as recounted in a New York Times article.
A study of New York City’s pioneering law on posting calories in restaurant chains suggests that when it comes to deciding what to order, people’s stomachs are more powerful than their brains. The study, by several professors at New York University and Yale, tracked customers at four fast-food chains — McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken — in poor neighborhoods of New York City where there are high rates of obesity.
It found that about half the customers noticed the calorie counts, which were prominently posted on menu boards. About 28 percent of those who noticed them said the information had influenced their ordering, and 9 out of 10 of those said they had made healthier choices as a result.
But when the researchers checked receipts afterward, they found that people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008.
The Guy From CSPI reacted to that study with this bit of interesting logic:
Nutrition and public health experts said the findings showed how hard it was to change behavior, but they said it was not a reason to abandon calorie posting. One advocate of calorie posting suggested that low-income people were more interested in price than calories.
“Nutrition is not the top concern of low-income people, who are probably the least amenable to calorie labeling,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington.
Did you follow The Guy From CSPI’s reasoning there? Obesity is largely concentrated among the poor, nutrition isn’t a top concern of the poor, and the poor are the least amenable to calorie labeling – but failure to actually make a difference is no reason to abandon an onerous law that was justified on the grounds that it would actually make a difference.
In a post a couple of years ago, I quoted from a study titled Restaurants, Regulation and the Super-sizing of America. When the researchers who conducted that study compared what obese people eat in restaurants versus what they eat at home, they found (surprise!) little difference:
When eating at home, obese individuals consume almost 30 percent of their calories in the form of “junk food” (ice cream, processed cheese, bacon, baked sweets, crackers, potato chips and fries, candies, soft drinks, and beer). Because obese individuals consume so many calories from nutritionally deficient sources at home, it may not be surprising that replacing restaurant consumption with home consumption does not improve health, as measured by BMI.
The people consuming ice cream, processed cheese, bacon, baked sweets, crackers, potato chips and fries, candies, soft drinks, and beer at home (let’s pretend bacon isn’t in the list) are eating foods that come in packages with calorie counts on them. The calorie counts are there because the FDA started mandating them on all packaged foods in the mid-1990s. As I recounted in Fat Head, our nanny-state-loving media greeted the FDA’s mandate with happy-talk articles speculating that consumers would start making smarter food choices thanks to the new labels.
Boy, that sure worked out well, didn’t it? Look how much thinner we’ve become since the 1990s.