Sunday, February 23, 2014
I don't think that the writer below has got it completely right but the article does show the importance of skepticism
The seven foods below are ancient. But they’ve gone from being considered healthy (long ago) to unhealthy (within the last generation or two) to healthy again, even essential.
1) Coconut Oil
Old wisdom: Coconut oil is a saturated-fat body bomb that should be avoided.
New wisdom: Coconut oil can cure what ails you.
Talk about an about-face. Anyone who grew up eating such nutritious fare as SpaghettiOs, Nestle Quik and Bisquick—actually, anyone old enough to vote in the United States—probably doesn’t remember a jar of coconut oil in the cupboard, or anywhere in the family diet.
Why? Coconut oil was stigmatized after flawed studies decades ago tested partially hydrogenated coconut oil for its ill effects. Now, of course, we know that the chemical process of hydrogenation is what does a body ill. That’s true whether the oil consumed is coconut, corn, canola, soy or any other.
It turns out that unrefined coconut oil offers terrific health benefits. Yes, it is a saturated fat. But the scientific consensus on whether saturated fats are bad for us is changing. Now researchers are stressing that saturated fats like coconut oil actually lower bad cholesterol in our bodies. Studies of people in countries that consume high amounts of coconut oil have found fewer instances of heart disease than in nations, such as the United States, where coconut oil has not been a staple. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is known for its antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial properties. Coconut oil, the new wisdom says, is good for our bodies inside and out. Studies and anecdotal evidence across the blogosphere tout coconut oil as a wondrous beauty aid, which can and should be used as a moisturizer to reduce lines and wrinkles, a moisturizer for dry hair, a soap and mouthwash.
Old Wisdom: Coffee equals caffeine equals bad for you.
New Wisdom: Coffee is loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients that improve your health. Plus, a little caffeine makes the world go round.
Why? Actually, most of the world never bought into the whole caffeine/coffee scare that made so many Americans start to swear off coffee, or heaven help us, switch to decaf. But these days, the U.S., chock full of Starbucks, has come around. Several prominent studies conducted over the last few years unearthed a bounty of benefits in the average cup of joe. As everyone knows, caffeine boosts energy. Based on controlled human trials, it has also been proven to fire up the neurons and make you sharper, with improved memory, reaction time, mood, vigilance and general cognitive function. It can also boost your metabolism, lower your risk of Type II diabetes, protect you from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and lower the risk of Parkinson’s. Whew.
3) Whole Milk
Old wisdom: High-fat milk lead to obesity. Exposing children to lower-fat options keeps them leaner and healthier and instills the low-fat habit.
New Wisdom: Ha!
A study at Harvard University found that despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children drink skim or low-fat milk after age two, doing so did not make for leaner or healthier children. In fact, the study found the opposite. Kids who consumed skim milk were likely to be fatter than those who drank it whole. Turns out that skim drinkers were more likely to indulge in junk food, which spiked their blood sugar levels, leading to more cravings for junk. And so on and so on.
Old Wisdom: Salt kills. It raises blood pressures, causes hypertension and increases the risk of premature death.
New Wisdom: Salt is essential to health. Too little salt can actually lead to premature death.
The new wisdom is actually older than the old wisdom. Long before it became the number-one evildoer in the Department of Agriculture’s hit list, worse than fats, sugar and booze, salt was considered so valuable to body and soul that it was literally used as currency. Homer called it a “divine substance.” Plato described is as dear to the Gods. The Romans considered it the spice of life; a man in love was salax—in a salted state. Only fairly recently, in that oh-so-wise 20th century, did salt become the bad guy at the dinner table.
It turns out that high-sodium processed “food” is the real villain in our diets. Unrefined salt, such as Himalayan salt or raw sea salts, contain 60 or more valuable trace minerals. It supports thyroid function and a faster metabolism and speeds the elimination of cortisol, the stress hormone that causes weight gain. Did you know salt is also a natural antihistamine (a pinch on the tongue may stem an allergic reaction). Finally, unrefined salt is needed for good digestion.
Old Wisdom: Chocolate gives you pimples, makes you fat and creates heartburn.
New Wisdom: Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants.
Chocoholics of the world rejoiced when the food scientists started doing an about-face on chocolate. After a few decades on the vilified list, in 2001, scientists began doing a double take, with the New York Times reporting that the science on chocolate was up in the air. Ten years later, chocolate had moved squarely into the good-for-you column. A 2011 Cambridge University study concluded that chocolate “probably” lowers stroke rates, coronary heart disease and high blood pressure. A more recent study has found that regular chocolate consumers are often thinner than non-chocolate eaters.
No one is advising you to grab a Snickers bar for lunch, though. Eating chemically laden, sugar-bombed milk chocolate is still a no-no…for now, anyway.
Old Wisdom: Popcorn is junk food.
New Wisdom: Popcorn is a whole grain, loaded with nutrients.
Like most of the foods on this list, this one has caveats. If you consider popcorn something to douse with “butter-flavored topping” and shovel in your mouth at the multiplex, then keep it on the “bad” list. A study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest has concluded that movie theater popcorn—a medium tub, mind you—has 1,200 calories and 60 grams of the worst kind of saturated fat. And that’s before you add whatever it is that is supposed to taste like butter. That calorie count is the equivalent of three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders.
Microwave popcorn, laden with chemicals, is also bad. But homemade, air-popped (let’s add organic, for good measure) or made with good oil popcorn, well, that’s a snack of a different color. Last year, researchers at the University of Scranton revealed that homemade popcorn has more antioxidants—known as polyphenols—than fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancers.
If that isn’t enough to make popcorn addicts rejoice, popcorn is a great source of fiber (it’s a whole grain) and is low in calories. Air-popped popcorn is the healthiest of all, with only 30 calories per cup.
Old Wisdom: Eggs clog your arteries and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and early death.
New Wisdom: Nonsense! Eggs are very nearly the perfect food.
How did this one happen? A century ago, when our grandparents gathered their eggs from the backyard hens, there was no controversy. Then cholesterol became the big bugaboo, and all of a sudden, we were being lectured to limit our consumption of eggs to four a week, if any.
Last year, scientists decided to settle the matter once and for all. A meta-analysis of 17 studies on egg consumption and health discovered that eggs did not contribute—at all—to heart disease or stroke in healthy individuals. On the contrary, eggs raise our good (HDL) cholesterol numbers and change the bad (LDL) cholesterol from small and dense to large and benign. Eggs are also high in iron and protein and two antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthine, which protect against age-related eye disorders like macular degeneration and cataracts.
The key is to eat eggs from free-range, happy and healthy chickens, just like in the old days, and avoid eggs that come from sickly, antibiotic-soaked, factory farm hens.
Eating More Fat Could Save Your Life
Low-fat diets, as recommended in new obesity guidelines released last month, may actually be contributing to our nation’s obesity epidemic. Are high-fat diets the answer?
The first time I showed up at a patient’s house with a tureen of fatty bone broth, I was scared it might cause her to have a stroke. As a lifelong dieter, I firmly believed that saturated fat was the enemy. As a physician, I was trapped by dietary guidelines into recommending low-fat foods. But my patient wasn’t doing well and I had to do something radical. So I made her a big fatty meal and I hoped for the best.
What happened next won’t surprise anyone who’s ever been on the Atkin’s diet: My patient lost weight and her sugars got better. Even her asthma went away. Completely. That low-carb-high-fat (LCHF) diet saved her life.
So when the new obesity guidelines were released last month, I expected they might contain, well, some guidelines on when it’s appropriate to use a LCHF diet. But they say nothing of the sort. The new guidelines, brought to us by the same folks who delivered the now infamous cholesterol guidelines, primarily recommend calorie restriction and dietary counseling for anyone even slightly overweight—anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more.
Yet it’s well established that calorie restriction causes rebound weight gain.
So, this recommendation could very well serve to make a nation of fat people even fatter. This is, after all, exactly what obese people tell us—the more they diet, the fatter they get. What’s more, many people now believe that along with the dangers of calorie restriction, low-fat diets themselves—the type the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends—might also be contributing to our obesity epidemic.
“While low-fat eating has increased, so have body weight and waistlines,” says Kerry Stewart, Professor of Medicine and Director of Clinical and Research Exercise Physiology at Johns Hopkins. “Based on what we know now about high carbohydrate eating, the obesity epidemic was predictable.”
And it is an epidemic (PDF): some 155 million Americans are overweight or obese (PDF).
This is a public health crisis that you might think would give us an all-hands-on-deck attitude. After all, if this were an infectious disease — a big collection of fat worms or something — it’s doubtful we’d keep recommending the same feeble treatment for decades and then blame the victims for not complying. No. We’d be scared. Scared for ourselves and our kids and our country.
We might even be frightened enough to reconsider our entire dietary approach. But the new obesity guidelines don’t address the low-fat/low-carb debate. Instead, they say there’s no good evidence to recommend any particular diet. (They say they reviewed 17 diets.) Yet, last month the Swedish obesity guidelines also came out, and after a review of 16,000 studies the Swedish committee endorsed LCHF diets as the most effective way to combat weight gain.
Our committee must have access to the same research the Swedes reviewed—so why there’s such a discrepancy is anybody’s guess. But some believe that our committee is under pressure to not reverse 30 years of AHA low-fat doctrine—even if it’s causing an epidemic. Instead, the committee took the almost comical stance of implicating practicing physicians in the obesity crisis. As the co-chair of the committee Donna Ryan, MD, explained, “primary care physicians have not been trained in obesity etiology or pathogenesis much less in its diagnosis and treatment”.
Not only is this statement somewhat laughable—last I checked, most doctors knew how to use scales — but it’s also off mark. Previous guidelines have urged doctors not to spend time on diet and lifestyle recommendations as they’re not terribly fruitful. Nevertheless, ignoring the guidelines, some doctors have found very effective ways to achieve long lasting weight loss using Atkins-type LCHF diets. And at this point good evidence is building up in their corner: LCHF diets lower blood sugar, insulin and triglycerides and raise good (HDL) cholesterol.
The improvements in cardiac risk factors notwithstanding, many physicians will remain cautious about recommending fatty diets because of the role fats may play in heart disease. After all, the only diets proven to open blocked arteries are no-added-fat vegetarian (Ornish-style) diets. Doctors are simply afraid that all that blubber is going to clog up our patients’ arteries, as I was when I threw caution to the wind and brought my patient a lamb chop and a mugful of saturated fat.
But a raft of studies now shows that saturated fat does not increase your likelihood of vascular or heart disease. And after many years, the results from the Women’s Health Initiative showed that women who ate higher levels of saturated fat actually had no increased risk of obesity or heart disease. What’s more, some doctors advocating high fat diets have shown individual reports of reversal of atherosclerosis.
This is not to say that LCHF diets will suit everyone.
Obviously, many people thrive on low fat diets. But while it’s pretty much universally acknowledged that we’re “supposed” to eat low fat diets, most Americans are overweight or obese. So it seems like low-fat diets are a prescription that most people can’t follow or won’t follow or follow and find that it just doesn’t work.
Why this is the case is a matter of both science and speculation. Some say that while giving lip-service to low-fat diets, we’ve actually increased our fat intake as our cheese and olive oil consumption have skyrocketed. But others say that overeating carbohydrates causes insulin to surge and essentially drives fat storage. This can explain why people who starve themselves can only lose minimal amounts of weight. Anyone who works with dieters—who doesn’t accuse them of lying about their food intake—will tell you that this is exactly what frustrated dieters report.
The fact that some people respond to low-fat diets and others to low carb is under active research. The current thinking is that it may be because most of us are over-producing insulin and that high levels of insulin may be causing the fat accumulation. In this case, a low-fat calorie restricted diet will be exactly the wrong prescription. On the other hand, insulin-sensitive people would account for those who respond well to low-fat diets.
At this late date, no one could possibly think this is the full story or be naïve enough to think that high-fat diets will be a panacea—and a one-size-fits-all approach might just get us into the kinds of trouble that high-carb diets have. We now know that obesity is complex — involving gut bacteria and cold viruses, hormones and sleep, culture and habit, good calories and bad calories. But it’s vital that physicians have up-to-date information to support patients as they strive to regain their health.
This is where a thoughtful set of obesity guidelines would have been helpful. Given the enormity of this problem, if there really is something that will work for even a significant portion of our people, the committee should be recommending it. The guideline committee has the ability to get the word out: for some patients, diets high in fats may be just what the doctor should order.
Posted by jonjayray at 12:27 AM