“WHY LISTEN TO SO-CALLED HEALTH ‘EXPERTS’
WHEN THEY ARE ALWAYS CHANGING THEIR MINDS
ABOUT WHAT’S GOOD OR BAD TO EAT?”
With the passing of the Thanksgiving turkey we are officially in the “holiday season”. Weight gain during the 6 week holiday season represents 51% of our annual weight gain which is actually only about a pound or two on average. Much less than the average weight gain during a 7-day ship’s cruise of a pound a day. So, what foods should be avoided in the next 6 weeks?
Junk Food has been the traditional scapegoat for our increasing obesity. But, what is junk food? Decades ago I remember a very savvy pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Gilbert Forbes, challenging a forum of physicians at a national pediatric meeting to define junk foods.
“Food high in sugar and carbohydrates”, was our immediate response.
“Like grandma’s apple pie?” was Dr. Forbes’ equally quick reply.
“Oh… high starch foods” was our second try.
“Like potatoes? How come all Germans aren’t fat?”
Our working definition after an hour or more of back and forth boiled down to “anything wrapped in cellophane or delivered by a vending machine.” Dr. Forbes’ point was that it is the total number of calories ingested and not any particular food that contributes to obesity.
Today that definition still holds true
In its inexorable march towards the truth medical science has just thrown a stone at the junk food glass house. A Cornell study (1) based on nearly 5,000 surveys done by the CDC in 2007-2008 surprisingly showed that for 95% of the people their BMI (a measure of obesity) was NOT linked to soda, fast food, or even candy. The researchers expected to find that the more junk food people ate the more apt they were to be obese. Instead they found no correlation between eating junk food and a higher BMI; no link between junk food and obesity. The researchers concluded that it was our increased intake of grains and added fats that was driving up the number of calories consumed by the average American. “Junk foods may not be the central difference between fat and thin. Limiting those foods is a part of a healthy diet, but it might not be the whole thing.” (2)
Sugar continues to get a bad rap, and we consume more and more sugar substitutes. But, as we say in medical science, “there ain’t no free lunch”. Studies showing that Canadian lab mice were more prone to develop bladder cancer if fed saccharine (Sweet and Low) certainly caused a bit of a flap until someone calculated the comparative human doses to be several shovelfuls a day. Sucralose (Splenda) is now under investigation because its effect on our gut bacteria may make us more prone to gain weight and develop diabetes. Like Fox radio news says, “We report, You decide.”
Excess (added) salt does seem to correlate with higher blood pressure. I don’t have the space here to summarize again the whiplash swings of research on salt and disease, but I can tell another story from the past that makes the point more succinctly.
A bunch of physicians (all male – I told you this was a story from the past) who were having lunch at the same table in a hospital cafeteria started remarking about the prodigious amount of salt a cardiologist was pouring on his food. As the discussion heated up, the cardiologist looked up from his plate and stopped it with a question, “How many of you have talked to your father in the past year.” Half of us raised our hands. “You guys can eat what you want. The others better watch their diets. You just have to pick your parents right.”
After decades of branding eggs as “bad” because of its cholesterol the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reported in 2015 that “eggs are OK.” A 1999 Harvard study showed that there was no correlation between an egg a day and the risk of heart disease in healthy people (3). 90% of our cholesterol is manufactured by our own liver as directed by our genes. Restricting our intake of certain fats can normally decrease our cholesterol level by about 10% at most.
WINE or BEER?
Previous studies have shown that wine drinkers seemed to experience less heart disease and certain cancers. Efforts to analyze why wine seemed so healthy resulted in tagging resveratrol, a chemical in grape skin, as the “active ingredient”. Dozens of nutritional supplements containing resveratrol ($12 – $25 for a month’s supply) immediately hit the market. Four Danish scientists thought that answer might be too simple and launched a study of what else those wine drinkers were buying at the food store. After examining 3.5 million store receipt transactions from 98 supermarkets they found that wine drinkers were more apt to buy olives, low-fat cheese, fruits and vegetables, low-fat meat, spices, and tea. Beer drinkers were more likely to buy chips, ketchup, margarine, sugar, ready-cooked meals, soft drinks, and, of course, beer. (4)
BOTTOM LINE for this holiday season?
“PICK YOUR PARENTS RIGHT, AND EAT AND DRINK IN MODERATION.”
1. Boston Globe, B12, November 23, 2015, Megan Scudellari
2. David Just, Cornell University Professor of Applied Economics and Management
3. Boston Globe, March 15, 2015, Walter Willett, MD, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health
4. The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor, Mark Schatzker, May 2015 as reported in The Atlantic, June 2015