Saturday, February 28, 2009

Worthless Study, Worthless Reporting

By Diana Hsieh

Yesterday, I was annoyed to read a Denver Post article on a new diet study. Here's the opening of the article:

Two decades after the debate began on which diet is best for weight loss, a conclusion is starting to come into focus. And the winner is not low-carb, not low-fat, not high-protein, but any diet.

That is, any diet that is low in calories and saturated fats and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables -- and that an individual can stick with -- is a reasonable choice for people who need to lose weight. That's the conclusion of a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, representing the longest, largest and most rigorous test of several popular diet strategies.
Simply based on my own experience -- let alone what I've read in Good Calories, Bad Calories and elsewhere -- I was skeptical of those conclusions. But mostly, I was irritated that the article didn't provide even the basic data required to support the opinions of its many quoted experts. It didn't discuss the methods used, the diets tested, or the results. (Seriously!) It was all assertion without any supporting facts.

So I dug up some actual facts about the study at Scientific American:
The study subjects were divided into four groups, each assigned to a special diet. One group ate a "low-fat, average-protein" diet (20 percent fat, 15 percent protein, 65 percent carbs); a second consumed a "low-fat, high-protein" diet (20 percent fat, 25 percent protein, 55 percent carbs); a third followed a "high-fat, average-protein" diet (40 percent fat, 15 percent protein, 45 percent carbs); and the remaining group ate a "high-fat, high-protein" diet (40 percent fat, 25 percent protein, 35 percent carbs). All four regimens were heart-healthy (low in saturated fat and cholesterol) and included 20 grams (0.7 ounce) of daily dietary fiber. For each study participant, the researchers calculated personalized daily consumption levels ranging from 1,200 to 2,400 calories per day.
Duh! The requirement of low saturated fat is really dumb, and the requirement of low dietary cholesterol is even dumber. But more importantly, not one of those diets is genuinely low-carb, and the high-fat diet isn't that either. As Richard Nikoley of Free the Animal observes in his debunking:
The lowest carbohydrate intake of all the diets was a whopping (yea, I can do the media hype, too) 35%. Presuming an average 2,500 kcal intake per day, that's about 220 grams of carbs -- not "low carb" by any means. So, this is merely a comparison between various moderate to high carb approaches -- approaches that leave insulin high and fat mobilization low.

The highest fat intake is only 40%. A true high fat diet is 60%+ of energy from fat. You can't go above about 35% from protein, and that's pushing it (25% is more realistic). Simple: protein remains about the same, and the tradeoff is between carbs and fat. This study was heavily weighted in favor of carbs, particularly when one considers that carbs hammer insulin and fat has little to no effect. High insulin = no fat mobilization.
So, given those defects, what did the study actually find? Here's what the Scientific American article reports:
"No matter which way you look at it, there were no [statistically significant] differences between any of the groups," Loria says. At six months, the average total weight loss for all of the groups was approximately 14 pounds (6.5 kilograms); by the end of two years that number had dipped to about nine pounds (four kilograms). "A lot of times in these weight loss studies, people tend to regain," notes Loria, adding that she will now study strategies that help people keep lost pounds off.
In other words, the recommendation of weight loss via "any diet that is low in calories and saturated fats and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables" cited in the Denver Post article is wholly unjustified. The study didn't test diets varying along any of those dimensions -- e.g. more or less refined grains versus no grains, low in saturated fats versus high in saturated fats, more or less fruits and veggies, etc. So any conclusions about the value of those foods in weight loss are completely unwarranted. More particularly, as Richard observed, the study "proved that all diets with excess carbohydrate are crap and deliver virtually no results for most people."

Bingo!

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Food Link-O-Rama

By Diana Hsieh

  • Dumb scare-mongering headline of the day, supported by a total non-story: How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer.

  • Dr. Eades on the ethics of eating animals: A better way to die? As I said in a comment I posted, I'd really like to investigate this issue more. I trust Dr. Eades reports, but they're rather old. Today's accounts are too often driven by some kind of partisan agenda. So I'd like to know what might have changed for better or worse over the last 30 years. Undoubtedly, federal regulations and subsidies have exerted a major influence over farming in that time -- e.g. subsidizing corn-feeding of livestock and the clean up of large confinement operations, pushing small farmers out of business by eating up their profits with burdensome regulations, forcing the closure of a large number of slaughterhouses by federal certification requirements, and so on. I want facts -- and for that, I'll likely have investigate for myself.

  • Stephan of the always-interesting Whole Health Source analyzes a recent study showing some rapid health improvements from eating a "paleo" diet: Paleolithic Diet Clinical Trials Part III. The study was small, and the diet wasn't fully paleo. But the results were very suggestive:
    Participants, on average, saw large improvements in nearly every meaningful measure of health in just 10 days on the "paleolithic" diet. Remember, these people were supposedly healthy to begin with. Total cholesterol and LDL dropped, if you care about that. Triglycerides decreased by 35%. Fasting insulin plummeted by 68%. HOMA-IR, a measure of insulin resistance, decreased by 72%. Blood pressure decreased and blood vessel distensibility (a measure of vessel elasticity) increased. It's interesting to note that measures of glucose metabolism improved dramatically despite no change in carbohydrate intake. Some of these results were statistically significant, but not all of them. However, the authors note that:
    In all these measured variables, either eight or all nine participants had identical directional responses when switched to paleolithic type diet, that is, near consistently improved status of circulatory, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism/physiology.
    Translation: everyone improved. That's a very meaningful point, because even if the average improves, in many studies a certain percentage of people get worse. This study adds to the evidence that no matter what your gender or genetic background, a diet roughly consistent with our evolutionary past can bring major health benefits. Here's another way to say it: ditching certain modern foods can be immensely beneficial to health, even in people who already appear healthy. This is true regardless of whether or not one loses weight.
    The lesson: don't suppose that a change in your diet won't do your body good just because you're not fat -- or not yet fat. Stephan has some more interesting comments; I recommend reading his whole post.

  • Cheeseslave on How to Make Lobster Stock. Yummy!

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  • Saturday, February 14, 2009

    Dinner: Burgers and Cauliflower

    By Diana Hsieh

    When Paul and I sat down to dinner tonight, I considered taking a picture of my uber-full plate, so that I could post it with this write-up. (It did look quite marvelous.) However, I was too impatient to eat it. Hence, you'll have to make do this description. Here's the food we split:

    • one pound grass-fed ground beef patties, cooked medium
    • two strips of uncured bacon
    • one head of steamed orange cauliflower, with raw butter
    • one and a half cups of button mushrooms sautéed in bacon and beef fat
    • two small glasses of raw milk
    The meal took up all of our plates. And now we're both pretty darn full. Happily, it took only about 20 minutes to prepare from start to finish. Here's what I did:
    • Cook the bacon on medium in a stainless steel pan -- not non-stick. While that's cooking, wash and chop the mushrooms. When the bacon is mostly cooked, drain off most of the bacon grease. (Save it in a mason jar for future cooking!) Add the mushrooms to the pan. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. (They'll be dry for a while, but then they'll release their juices.)

    • Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a saucepan for steaming the cauliflower. Wash and chop the orange cauliflower into medium-sized florets. Add to the steamer, cover, and cook for ten to fifteen minutes, or until tender when tested with a knife. Later, when the burgers are done, transfer the cauliflower to the plate. Dot with butter, add salt and pepper.

    • Meanwhile, salt and pepper the ground beef, then shape it into two oblong hamburgers. Remove the mushrooms and bacon from the pan into a bowl. Add a small dollop of bacon grease back to the pan, then hamburger patties. (Add the bacon back to the side of the pan to finish cooking it, if necessary, then transfer it to the plates when done.) Cook the burgers on the first side for six minutes, flip them, then cook for another six minutes. After flipping the burgers, add the partly-cooked mushrooms back to the pan. Stir them around the burgers occasionally. When done, transfer the burgers to the plates. Cook the mushrooms in the pan for another minute or so, then transfer them to the plate.

    • Meanwhile, instruct husband to set the table. He'll pour the glasses of milk too. (Best of all, he cleans up all the dishes after the meal is consumed!)

    • Eat, eat, and eat!
    If I wasn't so familiar with cooking those foods, I don't think I could have managed to do quite so much all at once. But practice makes perfect -- and easy!

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    Planche Training

    By Diana Hsieh

    Wow, I never knew that such suspended pushups were possible to man:

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    A Big Nod to Fat Head!

    By Greg Perkins

    Fat Head (movie website) is a brand new documentary by Tom Naughton that started out as a hilarious and informative sendup of the Super Size Me documentary from a few years back. The resulting film is that, plus a lot more -- it’s also a hilarious and informative sendup of the nutritional industry’s disastrous turn of the last several decades!

    Now, I’m the sort of guy who will cheerfully devour books like Gary Taubes’ meticulous and astonishing Good Calories, Bad Calories, but that is simply too much of a long, technical grind for most folks (he was really addressing doctors and professionals in the nutrition industry). I can’t give that to my parents, for example. In contrast, this movie is a wonderful resource I can pass on to introduce others to what I’ve learned from people like Taubes.

    Naughton features many of the big names we’ve come to recognize in this area, like the Drs. Eades, and Fallon and Enig from the Weston A. Price Foundation. And he consulted with people like Taubes -- so even when he needs to simplify something, the result is nonetheless strong. Naughton cleverly, effectively, and humorously addresses topics such as:

    • The many distortions and errors of Supersize Me.
    • The “lipid hypothesis”, where it came from, why it’s complete crap, and what damage it’s done.
    • Metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and the mechanisms of energy storage and use in our bodies -- what the science actually says about how people get fat.
    • Inflammation and heart disease, and how they really relate to cholesterol.
    • How activists and special interests and their coercive efforts via government intervention are responsible for so much dietary mischief that's hurting us.
    And the look on his doctor's face after seeing the results of a month of thoroughly flouting the standard advice of the nutrition industry was priceless!

    While there is of course much more to say than can be packed into a film like this, Fat Head just became the first resource I’ll share with family and friends on this front -- highly recommended!

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    Food Link-O-Rama

    By Diana Hsieh

  • 15 Tips for Cooking Real Food for Beginngers from CheeseSlave. (I love that name!) I haven't yet tried coconut flour, as I just haven't done much baking in the last six months. However, I've nearly run out of the slew of mason jars I bought this fall with all the homemade stock I've been preparing and freezing lately.

  • What Is Attractive? by Fitness Fail. Or: Why look like a skin-and-bones model when you can look like a CrossFit girl? The linked video of the women competitors from the 2008 CrossFit Games is awesome!

  • Beware your olive oil. According to this fascinating New Yorker article, it's often adulterated with cheap, rancid vegetable oils for the sake of a quick buck. I'm not sure whether the fridge test discussed by CheeseSlave is reliable. Whole Foods says not -- and that they rigorously test their store-label brands for purity. Another alternative is to choose a boutique source like Bariani or Adam's Ranch.

    Personally, I don't use much olive oil. I'm not much of a salad eater, so I don't use it for to make dressing. (And yes, I would make my own, as everything store-bought consists largely of industrial vegetable oil.) I use animal fats or coconut oil for cooking. I very much like the flavor they add to foods -- and they're more stable at high heats. From what I've read, olive oil ought not be used for high heat cooking. (For more on fats, see this post from Life Spotlight and this detailed article from the Weston A. Price Foundation.)

  • Yes, I do plan to make the bacon explosion at some point.

  • Canadian farmers should have the right to sell raw milk to their willing customers! RealMilk.com has a lengthy background article on the Michael Schmidt, the farmer brought up on charges for selling raw milk via a cowshare program. You can read his testimony at his trial. I'm not sure about the current status of his case -- perhaps it's still pending?

  • Are you looking for a source of raw milk? Check out these tips for evaluating the farm.

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  • Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Yaron Brook on Product Safety

    By Diana Hsieh

    In this video, Yaron Brook answers a question on how to ensure product safety in capitalism via tort law. And he explains why the regulatory state undermines the incentives to make products safe found in a free market.



    Exactly!

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    Saturday, February 07, 2009

    French Chicken in a Pot

    By Diana Hsieh

    As some of you might recall, I'm a huge fan of the fine cooks at America's Test Kitchen. I have a full shelf of their cookbooks, about 25 in all. I have a subscription to their web site, and I subscribe to their bi-monthly journal Cook's Illustrated. Oh, and I watch their excellent TV show, appropriately called America's Test Kitchen. Their recipes are not mere instructions: by their extensive testing and write-ups, they teach you the art and science of cooking. My capacity to cook a fantastic dinner of meat and veggies in thirty minutes from start to finish is almost entirely due to learning and applying their methods.

    Since going on my new diet, I am more choosy about the recipes I make from them. I don't make their pastas, desserts, or any of their low-fat recipes. However, they have tons of great recipes for foods I do eat. And now that I've shed myself of my prejudice against fats, I often make the super-fatty dishes that I used to avoid, such as the brussels spouts braised in a cup of cream from their highly useful Perfect Vegetables cookbook. Also, I adapt their recipes to suit my diet, such as substituting reserved bacon fat or coconut oil for vegetable oil. Those changes are easy to manage.

    Last weekend, I made their "French Chicken in a Pot." It was -- without a doubt -- the very best whole chicken I've ever eaten. The smell of it slowly cooking in its pot in the oven drove me crazy for hours. The taste of it lived up to my every hope. The chicken was amazingly juicy -- and the sauce made from the chicken drippings and few vegetables was intensely flavorful.

    The "French Chicken in a Pot" recipe is available to web site subscribers here. It can also be found in the January 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated. Since it was featured on their TV show, it's also available for free on that web site, provided that you register.

    In making the recipe, I brined the chicken in saltwater beforehand to make it more juicy. I substituted reserved bacon fat for the olive oil. (Olive oil is great, but from a bit that I've read, it's not suitable for cooking at high temperatures. Plus, I love the slightly bacon flavor that the bacon fat adds.) I also added a carrot to the pot, in addition to the onion and celery. It took time to cook, but not much work.

    In addition to the chicken, I also made Cook's "Quick Cooked Greens with Red Bell Pepper." That recipe is available on the web to subscribers; it was published in the January 1995 issue of Cook's Illustrated too. Once again, I substituted reserved bacon fat for the olive oil. Also, instead of mere chicken broth, I used some of the intensely-flavored liquid from the chicken. Those greens turned out quite well too.

    If you're not familiar with America's Test Kitchen but you'd like to try them out, I'd recommend starting with a subscription to their web site. You can get a two week free trial, and the cost for the whole year is just $35. The web site doesn't have all the recipes they've published in all their specialty cookbooks. However, it has every recipe from over 15 years of the magazine, plus lots of helpful short videos, equipment reviews, taste tests, and cooking methods.

    I'm definitely going to do more food blogging in the future -- hopefully with some pictures. I'll often point to a recipe from their web site, simply because that's what I use most often.

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    Wednesday, February 04, 2009

    Healthy Diet on Food Stamps? You Bet!

    By Diana Hsieh

    Ari Armstrong will prove that a person can eat a perfectly healthy diet of low-carb whole foods on a limited budget -- contrary to demands to extract more heard-earned dollars from taxpayers for government welfare programs. Here's his media release:

    MEDIA RELEASE: ACTIVIST PLANS LOW-CARB DIET ON FOOD STAMP BUDGET
    New Diet Protests Food Stamp Increases

    A healthy diet is achievable on a food stamp budget, and Ari Armstrong plans to prove it, again. Armstrong, who previously spent a month eating for $2.57 per day -- see http://tinyurl.com/c35e8q -- will spend February 4-10 eating a highly nutritious, low-carb diet for less than food stamps provide.

    Armstrong said, "Not only has Congress increased the food stamp budget since my $2.57 per day diet, but the so-called 'stimulus' package calls for additional food-stamp funds. Enough is enough. I oppose any increases to the food stamp budget, and call for the program to be replaced with voluntarily funded food banks, which offer more nutritious food at lower cost."

    Armstrong's new diet, unlike his previous one, will be low-carb, roughly following the advice of such writers as Gary Taubes and similar to "paleo" or "cave-man" diets. The diet will consist of meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, olive oil, chocolate, and spices. It will not contain any grains, vegetable oils, hydrogenated fat, potatoes, or processed sugar.

    Armstrong will limit his daily budget to $4.74 per day, less than food stamps provide to a single individual. The Department of Agriculture -- see http://www.fns.usda.gov/FSP/faqs.htm -- offers a family of four $588 per month, or $4.74 per person per day. (The food stamp allotment is reduced for those deemed able to fund some of their own food.) Armstrong will not accept any free food, and he will shop only at nearby regular grocery stores. He will track all his purchases and receipts at FreeColorado.com.

    "With the previous diet, my goal was to minimize daily expenses. With the new diet my goal is to show that a very healthy diet is possible on a limited budget. The cost of my diet will actually be inflated, not only because I'll be eating no free food, but because a week's diet is not able to take advantage of bulk purchases of sales items," Armstrong pointed out. "I've been known to purchase 40 pounds of bananas, a dozen squash, or twenty pounds of meat when they're on sale; obviously that's not possible for a single week."

    Part of the motivation to track the new diet was a recent CNN report -- see http://tinyurl.com/d2lb5g -- in which a woman on food stamps complains, "We get like the mac and cheese, which is dehydrated cheese -- basically food that's no good for you health wise... Everything is high in sodium and trans fats... and that's all we basically can afford. There's not enough assistance to eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight."

    Armstrong replied, "That's nonsense, and I'm prepared to prove it. I'm frankly irritated that some food stamp recipients waste our tax dollars on overpriced junk food, then complain about their grocery budget. I'll make the following offer. For anybody on food stamps who complains that they can't afford good food, I'll be more than happy to evaluate your entire monthly budget, including your grocery budget, and recommend judicious cuts, limited to the first five people who reply."
    Hooray for Ari!

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