Depending on which article you read, somewhere between 30% and 55% of people in the U.S. and Canada are cutting back on grains, especially wheat. That’s no small threat to what has long been the most profitable sector of the food industry. (Those government grain subsidies sure help.)
So the grain industry is fighting back with I’ve decided to call the Save The Grain Campaign. The campaign employs three main tactics I’ve noticed so far:
1. Promote grains as a necessary health food.
2. Attack people who say grains are bad for us.
3. Attack diets like low-carb or paleo that limit or eliminate grains.
Back in January, I wrote a post about an incredibly stupid article in Shape Magazine that featured the headline Low Carb Diet Linked to Shorter Life Expectancy. The article was about a Harvard observational study in which people who ate whole grains had longer lifespans than people who ate white flour. From that study, the dunce reporter at Shape Magazine concluded that 1) whole grains are health food, and 2) a low-carb diet will shorten your lifespan.
Riiiight. And if people who smoke filtered cigarettes live longer than people who smoke unfiltered cigarettes, that means unfiltered cigarettes are good for you … so people who don’t smoke will die prematurely. Same twisted logic. Leaders of the Save The Grain Campaign must have been proud.
The grain promoters know they can’t claim that grains are good for everyone without looking foolish. After all, there’s that little problem known as celiac disease. So they’re quick to point out that only one percent of the population has been diagnosed with celiac disease. Grains are great for the other 99 percent, ya see.
Riiiiight. That’s roughly equivalent to pointing out that only seven percent of cigarette smokers develop lung cancer, so cigarettes are fine for the other 93 percent. Celiac disease may be the most severe form of grain intolerance, but it’s hardly the only one. As I’ve mentioned before, when I stopped eating wheat and other grains, I waved goodbye to psoriasis on my scalp and arthritis in my shoulder, to name just two benefits of many. And guess what? I don’t have celiac disease. I had the test done to be sure.
If my daughter Sara eats wheat, she gets red blotches on her arms she calls da bumps – and I doubt she has celiac disease. I’ve heard from people who gave up grains and stopped getting migraines, or restless legs at night, or cold sores, or mood swings, or … well, heck, name it. Most of them, like me, didn’t give up grains because they have celiac disease or were worried about gluten or the gliadin protein. They gave up grains because they adopted a low-carb diet to lose weight, then noticed all those lovely side benefits.
That’s why I believe some studies and articles discouraging people from adopting a low-carb diet are part of the Save The Grain Campaign. When people go low-carb, bread, pasta and cereal are usually among the first foods swept from the menu. So with that in mind, let’s look at a couple more articles I’d consider part of the campaign.
We’ll start with an article on the Med Page Today site with the headline OmniCarb Study: Cutting Carbs No Silver Bullet.
Overweight and obese people who followed a low glycemic index diet in the context of an overall DASH-type diet had no greater improvements in insulin sensitivity, lipid levels or systolic blood pressure compared with study subjects who ate high glycemic index foods, in a randomized, controlled feeding study.
Low glycemic? I though the headline was about low-carb.
Following a low-glycemic index, low-carbohydrate diet, compared with a high-glycemic index, high-carbohydrate diet did not affect insulin sensitivity, systolic blood pressure, LDL cholesterol or HDL cholesterol, but it did lower triglycerides during the from 111 to 86 mg/dL, researcher Frank M. Sacks, MD, of Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote in the Dec. 17 issue of JAMA.
Ah, there was a low-carb arm of the study. So they must have limited carb intake to somewhere between 20 and 50 grams per day.
Among the two study diets with a high carbohydrate composition (58% of daily energy), one had a high glycemic index (≥65 on the glucose scale) and the other had a low glycemic index (≤45 on the glucose scale).
The two other diets had a low carbohydrate composition (40% of daily energy), with one having a high (≥65%) and the other having a low (≤45%) glycemic index.
Um … 40% of daily energy as carbohydrate is a low-carb diet? Say what? If I consume 2500 calories per day, 40% as carbohydrate works out to 250 grams per day. I’m pretty sure that’s nothing like what Dr. Atkins recommended.
As I read the article, I realized I’ve written about Dr. Frank Sacks and his research before. In fact, my first-ever blog post (nearly six years ago) was titled Create Your Very Own Biased Study. It was about a study conducted by … wait for it … Dr. Frank Sacks, who declared that low-carb diets aren’t particularly good for inducing weight loss. He showed as much by putting people on a (ahem) low-carb diet. Except his definition of low-carb was … wait for it … 35 percent of calories. Again, that’s nowhere close to the degree of carbohydrate restriction recommended by Dr. Atkins, Drs. Eades & Eades, etc. Heck, even Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet, with the safe starches and all, tops out at 30% of calories from carbohydrates.
Dr. Sacks has to know that low-carb diet plans start at 50 grams max, then gradually raise the carb intake to perhaps 100 grams. So I can’t help but wonder why he keeps studying “low-carb” diets that allow well over 200 grams per day, then uses those results to declare that cutting carbs doesn’t make much of a difference. Why not try an actual low-carb diet in one of these studies? Because to me, his studies look like reducing an alcoholic’s intake from 10 drinks per day to seven, then declaring that the poor S.O.B. still isn’t sober, so there’s no point in cutting back on alcohol.
If Dr. Sacks wants to steer people away from low-carb diets, at least he’s subtle about it. This article in Consumer Reports isn’t:
Widely publicized diets, such as high protein and low carbohydrates, seem so promising. It’s no wonder so many of us have tried—or considered—them. But does science support the claims? We spoke with doctors and dietitians, and read the research.
They may have spoken with doctors and dieticians – which is roughly as useful as asking for dietary advice from a plumber – but based on what follows, I can guarantee they didn’t read the research.
Remember the Scarsdale diet and the Stillman diet? Those high-protein, low-carb plans may have gone out of fashion, but Atkins, first published in 1972, is still hot. Protein-packed products are flooding stores, and the list of popular protein-rich diets—Paleo, Zone, and more—continues to grow. All claim that you’ll lose pounds, feel peppier, and reduce your risk of heart disease.
People lose weight on high-protein plans because they take in fewer calories, not because they focus on protein. “Diets only work by lowering calories,” says David Seres, M.D., director of medical nutrition at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York and a member of Consumer Reports’ medical advisory board. “Where the calories come from doesn’t matter.”
Yes, when you lose weight, you take in fewer calories than you burn. That’s HOW you lose weight, but not WHY you lose weight. In several studies, people on a low-carb diet spontaneously ate less despite not being told to restrict calories. That means something positive happened with their metabolisms. Eating less is the result, not the cause. Dr. Seres’ statement is akin to saying that Alcoholics Anonymous may work, but only because people stop drinking.
In addition to pushing protein, many of these plans recommend cutting back on—or completely eliminating—carbohydrates. Get less than 50 grams of carbs per day (the amount in two apples) for three to four days in a row, and your body will start tapping its own fat and muscle for fuel instead of its usual source: glucose derived from carbohydrates. That may sound like a way to shed pounds, but it can have serious health consequences. “You’re altering your metabolism away from what’s normal and into a starved state,” Seres says. “People in starved states experience problems with brain function.”
Holy crap, I’d better load up on carbs and then check that highly complex program I spent all those overtime hours coding last month – with everyone from the president of IT on down waiting for results. I’m told it worked quite well. On the other hand, my brain function is impaired, so I might have heard “This sucks — you’re fired” and interpreted it as “I really appreciate all your hard work in getting this done” … from the president of IT.
A high-protein diet also overworks the kidneys. That’s especially worrisome for people with kidney disease and can predispose those with healthy kidneys to kidney stones.
If your kidneys are damaged, they can leak protein. In that case, you need to restrict protein. But protein doesn’t cause the damage in the first place. Here’s a quote from a journal article on the supposed dangers of high-protein diets:
The purpose of this review is to evaluate the scientific validity of AHA Nutrition Committee’s statement on dietary protein and weight reduction, which states: “Individuals who follow these [high-protein] diets are risk for … potential cardiac, renal, bone, and liver abnormalities overall.
Simply stated, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that high-protein intake has adverse effects on liver function. Relative to renal function, there are no data in the scientific literature demonstrating that healthy kidneys are damaged by the increased demands of protein consumed in quantities 2–3 times above the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).
In contrast with the earlier hypothesis that high-protein intake promotes osteoporosis, some epidemiological studies found a positive association between protein intake and bone mineral density. Further, recent studies suggest, at least in the short term, that RDA for protein (0.8 g/kg) does not support normal calcium homeostasis. Finally, a negative correlation has been shown between protein intake and systolic and diastolic blood pressures in several epidemiological surveys.
In conclusion, there is little if any scientific evidence supporting the above mentioned statement.
So I guess the anonymous Consumer Reports reporter didn’t actually slog through the research before repeating what a few doctors and dieticians believe.
When it comes to heart disease, the saturated-fat-laden red meat that’s part of many high-protein diets may actually boost your risk. According to a Harvard study of more than 120,000 people followed for more than 20 years, a meat-based low-carb diet increased the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 14 percent.
Denise Minger sliced and diced that observational study in a guest post on Mark Sisson’s blog. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here’s the money quote:
If you secretly suspected that this was a “people who eat red meat do a lot of unhealthy things that make them die sooner” study, you can now gloat.
As you can see, the folks eating the most red meat were also the least physically active, the most likely to smoke, and the least likely to take a multivitamin (among many other things you can spot directly in the table, including higher BMIs, higher alcohol intake, and a trend towards less healthy non-red-meat food choices).
Same old, same old … in a society where people are told meat is bad for them, it’s mostly the I don’t give a @#$% people who eat more meat – well, except for us LCHF and paleo types. I don’t give a @#$% types have worse health outcomes for all kinds of reasons – including not giving a @#$%.
By the way, I realize some of you are probably expecting me to jump up and down and insist that a low-carb diet is a high-fat diet, not a high-protein diet. Truth is, unless you aim for a constant state of ketosis – which I don’t – a low-carb diet probably will be high in protein. And for most of us, I think that’s good. I’ll explain why in a future post.
In the meantime, we can all sit back and chuckle at the Save The Grain Campaign. I give them kudos for effort, but it’s not going to work. You can’t easily convince people to dismiss their own experiences.