Quite a few readers have lamented in comments or emails that their family and friends think they’re nuts for living on a high-fat/low-carb diet. Yes, it’s discouraging, but I understand where the family and friends are coming from. Just look at the kind of health advice they see in the popular media. Here are some recent examples.
Bacon Will Kill You
You know you’re in for some head-bang-on-desk moments when a registered dietician writes an article titled The Truth About Bacon.
There seems to be an epidemic spreading through America known as Bacon-Gate!
What used to only be served with eggs at the breakfast table has slowly transitioned into more unconventional uses. Bacon is now offered in ice cream, wrapped around hot dogs, shrimp, and even dates.
For the record, I never tried to wrap any of my dates in bacon. Not even Chareva — although on our first date, she tore into an Italian sausage with such gusto, perhaps I should have at least floated the idea.
You can find it in gourmet chocolate bars, infused in mayonnaise or jams, and countless other concoctions.
So the article starts on a positive note. But you can guess what’s coming next.
Unfortunately, while its popularity is on the rise, so are concerns regarding the potentially harmful effects this salty staple can have on your health.
I agree … the rise in concern about people eating bacon is unfortunate.
The fact is, bacon is not good for you, especially if you are at risk for certain health conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure.
Here we go … a reference to arterycloggingsaturatedfat coming in 3-2-1 ..
The high fat content (68 percent of its calories comes from fat, almost half of which is saturated or artery-clogging, and one strip can contain up to 3.5 grams of fat), high sodium (one medium slice contains 150mg), and high cholesterol (30mg per ounce, about 4 slices). Cured bacon contains nitrates, and according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nitrates in food have been linked with cancer.
The high fat content of bacon is the reason I eat it. Yes, almost half is saturated, and most of the other half is monounsaturated, which is the kind of fat that’s supposed to make olive oil so wonderful for us. All the saturated fat will do to you is raise your HDL … and make you happy to be alive in a world where there are pigs.
There are ways you can still enjoy bacon (in moderation, of course) and minimize its potentially unhealthy effects.
Yeah. Don’t eat it with bread.
Keep in mind that traditional pork bacon has some plusses: It is high in protein, vitamins and minerals, including B6, B12, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc, as well as choline, a nutrient which helps improve cognitive performance, memory, mood and mental alertness.
So bacon is jam-packed with all kinds of vitamins and minerals that are good for you, but it’s also bad for you because it’s high in fat. Here’s a wacky idea: maybe there’s a reason Mother Nature put all those vitamins and minerals in fatty meats and then made fat taste delicious to humans.
The rest of the article goes on to suggest trying “healthier varieties” such as turkey bacon. I have. All it did was make me feel guilty for killing a turkey for no good reason.
Sugar and starch are shockingly good for you
The Eat This Not That guys are often near the top of my list of annoying people. An online article titled 20 Shockingly Healthy Restaurant Foods left me freshly annoyed.
Good news: Amid the sea of fat-soaked failures that pervade the menus of newer major restaurant and fast-food chains, we uncovered some remarkably smart choices.
Here are just a few samples of the remarkably smart (but not fat-soaked!) choices they recommend.
Arby’s Super Roast Beef sandwich. Just like a hamburger, this sandwich is piled with lettuce, tomato, and onion. The difference is that Arby’s replaces the beef patty with roast beef, which clears off enough excessive fat to make room for indulgent sides or dessert. If this were a burger, you could expect it to weigh in with at least 600 calories.
This is remarkably smart because it only contains 17 grams of fat and 5 grams of saturated fat, ya see. They didn’t mention the carbohydrate content, so I looked it up: 40 grams, pretty much all from a white-flour bun.
Ben & Jerry’s frozen yogurt (1/2 cup). Frozen yogurt shops are all the rage right now, but Ben & Jerry’s has been quietly pumping out low-fat fro-yo for close to 2 decades. Skip the restaurant dessert and swing by here instead. Top a cup with chopped nuts and fresh fruit for one of the finest desserts you’ll ever encounter.
Only three grams of fat! (Why do I feel like I walked into a Seinfeld re-run?) There are also 23 grams of sugar – in a half-cup. That almost equals an 8-ounce Coca-Cola. Yup, remarkably smart.
The article recommends more remarkably smart choices like macaroni and cheese, chicken wraps, burritos, pancakes and even a big ol’ Oreo cookie – but one that’s not too high in fat. The takeaway message: as long as you limit your fat and total calories, everything else is remarkably smart.
Junk food and Alzheimer’s
I’m glad researchers are recognizing Alzheimer’s as a form of diabetes, but an article titled The New Junk Food Danger — Dementia? manages to give the exact wrong impression about what causes diabetes.
Not only does junk food make you fat, but it could cause dementia. New research shows that our calorie-laden diet boosts risk for dementia, a memory-robbing disorder some experts now call “type 3 diabetes.”
In fact, a shocking new study reports that teenagers who eat a diet that’s high in fat and calories already show “accelerated cognitive decline.” The researchers blame rising rates of dementia on our increasingly unhealthy eating habits and couch potato lifestyle.
Excuse me, but how many teenagers do you know who eat a diet that’s high in fat and calories but low in sugar and refined starches? After that opening, you’d wonder if the writer has any clue about the insulin connection. But lo and behold, the next section of the article is subtitled …
The Insulin Connection
While it’s long been known that type 2 diabetics are at higher risk for memory loss, another new study found that damage to key brain areas involved in memory and cognitive skills starts when blood sugar hits the high end of the “normal” range, even when other risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and alcohol consumption are taken into account.
So it’s all that dietary fat pushing blood sugar to the high end of the normal range, is it? I’d better order another glucose meter. Mine’s clearly malfunctioning, since it tells me it’s carbohydrates that spike my blood sugar.
“Americans are literally eating a ‘diabetes diet’ that’s very toxic to the brain and other vital organs,” says Dr. Joel Zonszein, medical director of the diabetes clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “And the one of the most terrible complications — brain damage — is occurring in younger and younger patients.”
Yes, diabetes has been on the rise for 30 years now. Hmmm … which foods did we start consuming in larger quantities during that span? Red meat? Eggs? Whole milk? Butter? Nope, consumption of all those fatty foods went down.
“Most people with insulin resistance graze all day on high-calorie foods,” says Dr. Zonszein. “What they should do is eat three heart-healthy, low-fat meals a day with colorful fruits and vegetables, high-fiber whole grains, and lean protein, such as fish or chicken, on their plate.”
Ahh, yes, let’s put whole grains on our plates. Nothing keeps your blood sugar down like grains.
Also limit—or better still, avoid—sweet drinks, including fruit juice and sports drinks. A recent study shows that high-fructose sweeteners, in particular, may be driving the development of brain-harming microvessel disease.
Finally, one piece of good advice.
We need bread!
I’m always suspicious of articles written by anonymous reporters. This article in the U.K. Mail, titled Not a Grain of Truth, sounds as if it were written by someone from the bread industry — which it probably was.
Scientists dismiss 20 years of warnings that bread is responsible for fatigue, stomach pain, bloating and headaches
People are going without vital vitamins and minerals that are contained in each loaf
From hot buttered toast to the simple sandwich, bread was once the staple of the British diet. But in recent years it has suffered from a serious image crisis and has become something of a health bogeyman, a food to be avoided and resisted.
Now nutrition scientists believe that most of the health alerts about consuming bread are myths.
I don’t care if you’re reading about nutrition, economics or global warming, whenever you see a blanket statement like “experts say” or “scientists believe,” you’re looking at an intentionally biased article. The factual statement would always be “some experts say” or “some scientists believe.” Pick any field, and the experts or scientists routinely disagree with each other. When reporters write “scientists believe,” they’re telling you what to believe, not what is. It’s just a weak appeal to authority.
Researchers at the British Nutrition Foundation said that people are instead going without vital vitamins and minerals that are contained in each loaf.
So let me get this straight … we should eat bread because we need the vitamins and minerals that government health agencies ordered to be added to bread so people wouldn’t suffer nutrition deficiencies from eating bread. Yeah, that makes sense.
And they have dismissed 20 years of warnings that bread is responsible for a range of symptoms, including fatigue, stomach pain, bloating and headaches. They also dispute that wheat allergies are on the increase.
Really? How exactly did those scientists dismiss warnings that bread can cause fatigue, bloating and headaches? Was there some kind of research involved here?
Lead researcher Dr Aine O’Connor said that despite a massive downturn in bread consumption, Britain’s obesity crisis is the biggest in Europe and continues to worsen.
Yes, consumption of sliced bread has fallen, but consumption of grains certainly hasn’t. People are eating their grains in the form of donuts, scones, pasta, pancakes, burritos, pizza, and Little Debbie Snack Cakes.
Dr O’Connor said that wheat allergies have not risen, but many people are now incorrectly convinced they suffer from wheat intolerance or an allergy to gluten (the protein found in wheat).
Strange, I seem to recall reading about a study in which scientists compared blood samples from 50 years ago to blood samples today and found that the rate of celiac disease really and truly has gone up – by a factor of four. How does a blood sample become incorrectly convinced to develop antibodies to celiac disease? I had no idea blood was so prone to hypochondria.
Since the anonymous bread-pushing reporter is quoting the British Nutrition Foundation as a source of unbiased expertise on the health benefits of bread, I went looking for information on the organization’s funding. Here’s what I found.
The British Nutrition Foundation, established more than 40 years ago, advises the Government, schools, industry, health professionals and the public. It says on its website that it exists to deliver “authoritative, evidence-based information on food and nutrition” and that it aims to be “world class in the interpretation and translation of complex science.”
However, the organisation’s 39 members, which contribute to its funding, include – beside the Government, the EU – Cadbury, Kellogg’s, Northern Foods, McDonald’s, PizzaExpress, the main supermarket chains except Tesco, and producer bodies such as the Potato Council. The chairman of its board of trustees, Paul Hebblethwaite, is also chairman of the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Trade Association.
Sounds like exactly the kind of unbiased organization media health reporters should rely on when they write articles telling us what’s good for us.
This is what we’re up against.
p.s. — I’m driving to Illinois tomorrow (Friday) to attend my 35th (holy @#$%!) high school reunion. I’ll check comments when I can, but I’ll be in the car most of the day.
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@Be: I went and looked around the link. Some less than strong writing about some less than strong ideas. But when I got to the bottom and saw something described as “cutting edge,” I knew these people didn’t have anything useful or original to say!
Why exactly is religion an unfair analogy when discussing cognitive dissonance resolution? Because doing so offends you personally? That’s an extremely common comparison, for obvious reasons, regardless of your own personal views.
As amusing as your indignant edicts were (“this is Tom’s blog” / “unfair metaphor”), I’m quite sure Tom can moderate his own blog without your help. Try to be a grown-up and have a thicker skin. Sometimes people will say things you don’t agree with–there’s no reason for you to take it personally.
“The book “Catching Fire” explains how important cooking food was in our evolutionary development. After reading it, I likewise find it difficult to believe that cooked meat is bad for us.”
On a semi related note, I believe that one need look no further than the fact our mouths can withstand much higher temperatures than our fingertips for evidence that we are meant to eat cooked meat.
Hey Tom—VERY funny post, as always (we need the comic relief in this business, god knows…)
If you’re looking for another reason to reach for the Tylenol, I’ve got one more throbbing headache for you. “Dr” John McDougal has a NEW book out right now. Are you sitting down for this? It’s called “The Starch Solution”. No lie. He says that eating meat and fat diets are killing America and that we all need to return to a starch based diet…that vegetarians and vegans are never overweight and neither are world populations that eat rice or beans and corn (has he ever BEEN to the desert SW??). He says we are “at war” for the future of our planet and our children (he has a YouTube video out on this). The good guys are the plant-eaters and the evil-doers are the meat eaters. I am not kidding you. This guy is deeply disturbed…and he’s gaining an audience.
I’ve read some of his stuff. If you don’t care about little things like facts, it’s easy to construct your case.
I got back a lot of free time when I realized that once I saw the phrase “artery-clogging saturated fats” or “heart-healthy whole grains” in any printed material, I could just stop reading it, with no risk of missing valuable wisdom. Now I have more time for Twitter and Web comics.
It’s very rare for people to ever say, “Wow, we were *really* wrong about that for years – sorry!” We’ll win, eventually, because belief can hold out for a really long time against data, but never forever.
That’s what I’m counting on.
Years ago, on a friend’s suggestion, I bought one of John McDougal’s books. I read the book and tossed it. Looking over the recipes and meal suggestions, I figured his program would prevent all kinds of health problems because I’d die of boredom before anything else got me.
If the McDougal diet is what it takes to be healthy, I’ll take my chances with my current diet.
Sorry Tom but this kind of thing really gets my goat:
“Why exactly is religion an unfair analogy when discussing cognitive dissonance resolution? Because doing so offends you personally? That’s an extremely common comparison, for obvious reasons, regardless of your own personal views.
As amusing as your indignant edicts were (“this is Tom’s blog” / “unfair metaphor”), I’m quite sure Tom can moderate his own blog without your help. Try to be a grown-up and have a thicker skin. Sometimes people will say things you don’t agree with–there’s no reason for you to take it personally.”
Tom, you are usually silent when someone brings in a topic in a comment that is irrelevant to the post in question and that’s fine. However when I read a comment that uses religious belief as an example of “cognitive dissonance” and also states that it’s an extremely common comparison – FOR OBVIOUS REASONS – oh, like everyone agrees that people who have religious beliefs have this dissonance??? I simply want to point out that there is NO space/appropriateness to respond here and so these metaphors should be more carefully thought through – and I DO believe that a response must be given if they are tossed around carelessly – that’s all I wanted to say about this. As a believer I can’t let this go by – and why should I not be able to call this out? It does not offend me personally but it is offensive because it says those with religious belief are unreasoning – and when 99.9% of the planet has a belief system and .1% do not who are the “unreasoning ones eh?
Again, Tom, this is not the place but heck this arrogant stance – that I just need to get a sense of humour, get a thicker skin, and get over myself – makes me sick.
Arguments over religion can go on forever, so I don’t get involved in them. But for the record, I don’t believe having religious beliefs requires cognitive dissonance or an anti-science attitude.
I had a similar experience reading an article about dementia in the UK magazine NewScientist. They reported correctly that chronically raised levels of insulin are causing dementia but they kept insisting that a diet “high in fat and sugar” was the cause of these high levels of insulin.
You can read my blog post about it here.
Well done, and I share your anger. They just can’t let go the idea that fat is bad.
Saw this about “correlation isn’t causation” and immediately thought of you.
Thanks for the chuckle.
We wrap a sausage stuffed jalepeno (vine ripened and picked by a carnivor) in bacon. then we either grill or just bake. it is outstanding. lots of fat and some protein and a jalapeno. Good to put out when you have vegetarians guests 🙂
Only if you want them to leave, I guess.
Have you ever seen the conventional advice in textbooks for healthcare providers Tom? I’m currently using “Bates’ Guide to Physical Examination,” which is the standard text for MDs, NPs, PAs and other clinical providers for their health assessment training. In the health promotion for heart disease section, it states:
“Unhealthy Fats: Foods high in cholesterol (dairy products, egg yolks, liver and organ meats, high-fat meat and poultry.”
“Foods high in saturated fat [unhealthy fats]: high-fat dairy products-cream, cheese, ice cream, whole and 2% milk, butter, and sour cream; bacon, chocolate, coconut oil; lard and tracy from meat drippings; high-fat meats like ground beef, bologna, hot dogs, and sausage.”
Oh there’s more, “Discuss the principles of health eating [with your patients] – patients with high fat intake are more likely to accumulate body fat than patients with high intake of protein and carbohydrate.”
I haven’t seen the textbooks, but I’m not surprised.
Contrary to your claim, you are indeed taking personal offense to my comments–your emotional, indignant reply makes that very clear, even if not to you. You are reading from my remarks something they did not say.
My comment had very little to do with religious *persons* and their individual interpretations of faith, but with the fundamental function of common religious practice.
No religion that I know of typically invites diverse perspectives on its tenets. I’ve studied the Bible for 18 years, and I’ve never run across any dictum that was appended with a statement to the effect of “…unless future evidence to the contrary refutes this.”
I’m perfectly aware someone can identify himself as religious and still be open-minded. Nowhere did I ever say otherwise. Nor did I ever say people’s religious beliefs were wrong or misguided. If you think I did, it’s because you tried to read my mind instead of simply reading my words. Right vs. wrong is not really what cognitive dissonance is about–it’s about conflicting information, namely internal beliefs versus external influences. Your angry reaction makes it obvious you do not really understand this.
Gary Taubes wrote in Good Calories, Bad Calories that public health research has become “dedicated in practice to convincing everyone…that the answers are already known and always have been–an enterprise, in other words, that purports to be a science and yet functions like a religion” (p. 451-2). Like I said before, this example in contrasting scientific integrity (the antithesis of convenient dissonance reduction) with religion is *extremely* common. Are you going to write to Gary and lambast him for having such an opinion?
Sorry to hear you feel sick after reading my remarks. Clearly it is self-induced on your part. I am able to read your comments and not get offended by them–I’m confident enough in my beliefs that I don’t get upset when someone expresses a contrary opinion. It’s a shame you can’t do the same; otherwise we could have an adult conversation.
And yes, you do, quite patently, need to grow a thicker skin.
I find these articles about the insulin/carbohydrate connection to dementia fascinating. I have seen several articles calling alzheimers type three diabetes several times.
Perhaps that is the explanation for Dr. McDougall and the other HCLF promoters. Just a thought.
It’s an amusing thought at the very least.
Hey Tom, big fan. Slightly off topic, but wanted to get your highly valued thoughts. Are you familiar with a study from the Jan-2009 American Heart Journal entitled ‘Lipid levels in patients hospitalized with coronary artery disease: An analysis of 136,905 hospitalizations in Get With The Guidelines’? Link: http://www.ahjonline.com/article/S0002-8703(08)00717-5/abstract
I came across this study while searching for all (or more accurately ‘any’) of the “evidence” that high LDL levels lead to coronary heart disease (besides Framingahm, MRFIT, etc.). While the researchers conclusion is silly, the data is indeed telling (he concludes that since many heart attack patients had low LDL levels that the treatment aim should be to laim to ower LDL levels even more…rather than the CORRECT conclusion that LDL is NOT correlated!)
Putting aside the bias of the researcher (who had close ties to big pharma big surprise), the true value of the study is captured entirely in Table II on Page 114. Examining LDL levels for 48,000+ patients that were admitted with confirmed clinical diagnoses of coronary artery disease, showed the following:
13% of patients had LDL below 70
42% of patients had LDL below 100
72% of patients had LDL below 129
Less than 10% of the patients had LDL greater than 160
How in pete’s sake can one think that high LDL is linked to heart problems based on these results…particularly when the alleged highest risk group (those with LDL > 160) represented the SMALLEST group of patients!!?!? Please help me understand.
Yup, I blogged about that when it came out. There’s not much to understand. Faced with these numbers, the lipophobes decided they didn’t set the LDL recommendation low enough.