In Conversation: Your Eating Might Not Be So Sinful – Author of “The Bad Food Bible”

Greta Jochem wrote . . . . . .

It’s the season of sinful eating. In just four days we’ll be piling our Thanksgiving plates high with buttery mashed potatoes and MSG-laden turkey.

And good news, gobblers: All those forkfuls of goodness may not be as bad for us as we think.

Dr. Aaron Carroll is the director of the Center for Health Policy at Indiana University and author of The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully. In it, he explains that there might be less evidence against some notoriously bad foods than we think. In fact, maybe we should be eating some of them more often.

Weekend Edition host Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke with Carroll about why “bad” food may not be so bad after all. Excerpts of the interview follow, edited for length and clarity.


You cover a lot of foods in your book that get a bad rap – butter, salt, diet soda and even alcohol. What’s your main advice when it comes to these sinful eats?

I think the best thing you can do is realize is that the evidence base, all the data that’s behind making you think these foods are bad for you, is pretty weak. And that if you just take some sensible ideas and try to eat in moderation and to not worry about it too much, you’ll probably be much healthier and certainly much happier.

When you say that basically there’s no evidence that some of these foods are bad, is all the information we’ve been getting for all these years wrong? Or is it just that people, doctors in particular, don’t know what they’re talking about?

It’s a little bit of both. Part of it is that for a long time we’ve just had a very weak evidence base when it comes to nutrition. We take studies that are done in animals, or we take studies that can really only show us associations, and then we extrapolate them to make it out to be that there’s causation, that we know these foods are making us unhealthy. … At the end of the day there’s just not as much evidence for demonizing these foods as people would have you believe.

There are some surprises in your book, like milk isn’t as nutritious as some might think?

This is one of those where, if you just look at nature, we’re the only animal that consumes milk outside of the infant period. Now there’s no need for it. Part of that is politics, and the fact that the United States got involved in promoting dairy and the whole dairy industry. But there’s really no good evidence outside of the childhood period that milk is necessary. One of the things that I tried to state in the book, and this is true of all beverages with calories, you should treat them like you treat alcohol. I mean, what else are you going to do with a good chocolate chip cookie? Of course you need a glass of milk with that. That’s like dessert — it’s something you should have because you want it, not because you need it.

Raw eggs often get a bad reputation, particularly when it comes to cookie dough. How bad are they, really?

The raw egg is another one where of course there is a risk. But you have to weigh that against joy again. The truth of the matter is that if you committed to eating raw eggs in cookie dough once a week every week for the rest of your life, you’d almost never come into contact with salmonella. If you did, you’d almost never get sick. If you got sick, you’d almost never notice. Even if you noticed, it would almost never result in something serious. The chance of you actually getting seriously ill is infinitesimal. … The joy of doing those kinds of things with your kids or enjoying the process of baking is much more satisfying and will lead to greater increases in quality of life than the infinitesimal risk that you’re hurting your health in some way.

So, it sounds like there’s a lot of misinformation surrounding what food is bad for us. What’s your eating advice then?

So I think you know, in general, one thing you can do is limit your heavily processed food as much as possible. Nature intended you to get the appley goodness from an apple, not from apple juice. But the more we can do to smile, to cook for ourselves, to know where our food is coming from, to be mindful of it, the better. But we shouldn’t be so panicked and fearful and constantly believing that if we don’t do what we’ve heard from the latest expert, that we’re going to get sick and die. That is just not true.

Of course, we are staring down the barrel of Thanksgiving, which for many of us can be a moment that produces a lot of anxiety, especially food anxiety nowadays. It just feels like it’s all so fraught. I’m evil if I eat meat. I’m bad if I like Diet Coke. Food is loaded.

It’s also really important, it’s one day a year! Your health and your eating habits are not established by one day a year. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy yourself and to live! You need to weigh — in all your health decisions — the benefits and the harms. And too often we only focus on the latter. And included in benefits are joy, and quality of life and happiness. There are times when it’s a perfectly rational decision to allow yourself to be happy and to enjoy yourself. I’m not sort of giving a license for people to eat whatever they want, anytime they want. Yes, the Diet Coke, the pie, these are all processed foods. So you should think about how much you’re eating them in relation to everything else. But on the other hand, a piece of pie on Thanksgiving is not going to erase everything else you’ve done the rest of the year. Thanksgiving is easily my favorite holiday and it’s not just because of the food, but also because of the meal and the fact that you get to enjoy it with family and friends.

I’ve got to ask you, what are you having for Thanksgiving?

As much as I can cram into my body on that day. But, I love turkey, really well-done turkey. I love mashed potatoes, and stuffing and gravy, and I think pie is the greatest dessert that exists, so I’m sure I’ll be having too much of that as well.

Source: npr

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Hong Kong Researchers Create Tomatoes with Anti-ageing Properties

Danny Mok wrote . . . . . . .

The research team led by Professor Chye Mee-len from the university’s School of Biological Sciences identified a new strategy to simultaneously enhance health-promoting compounds vitamin E, provitamin A, lycopene, as well as phytosterols and squalene, in tomatoes, becoming the first in the world to do so.

Her team members, HKU associate professor Wang Mingfu and postdoctoral fellow Liao Pan, modified a gene isolated from Indian mustard and introduced it into ordinary tomatoes.

The genetically modified tomatoes contained 494 per cent more vitamin E than ordinary tomatoes. Provitamin A and lycopene content was also 169 per cent and 111 per cent higher, respectively. These substances are all anti-ageing antioxidants.

There were no differences in the appearance and size of the altered tomatoes, compared to normal tomatoes.

Professor Chye said: “Our transgenic tomatoes can be processed to give tomato juice and tomato paste that are enriched with many healthy components.”

And she said the extracts with enriched phytosterols, vitamin E and carotenoids could be used in the production of anti-ageing cream, sun-care lotion or face masks. These compounds have excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, she said.

Her team planned to further the research by testing these tomatoes on animals to examine the health benefits in detail.

Source : SCMP

International Study: Moderate Consumption of Fats and Carbohydrates Best for Health

Research with more than 135,000 people across five continents has shown that a diet which includes a moderate intake of fat and fruits and vegetables, and avoidance of high carbohydrates, is associated with lower risk of death.

To be specific about moderate, the lowest risk of death was in those people who consume three to four servings (or a total of 375 to 500 grams) of fruits, vegetables and legumes a day, with little additional benefit from more.

As well, contrary to popular belief, consuming a higher amount of fat (about 35 per cent of energy) is associated with a lower risk of death compared to lower intakes. However, a diet high in carbohydrates (of more than 60 per cent of energy) is related to higher mortality, although not with the risk of cardiovascular disease.

These are the top messages of two reports published Tuesday (Aug. 29) in The Lancet, both produced from a major global study led by researchers at the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences. The reports were also presented on Tuesday (Aug. 29) at the Congress of the European Society of Cardiology in Barcelona, Spain.

The data are from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study which followed more than 135,000 people from 18 low-income, middle-income and high-income countries. The study asked people about their diet and followed them for an average of seven and half years.

The research on dietary fats found that they are not associated with major cardiovascular disease, but higher fat consumption was associated with lower mortality; this was seen for all major types of fats (saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and mono unsaturated fats), with saturated fats being associated with lower stroke risk.

Total fat and individual types of fat were not associated with risk of heart attacks or death due to cardiovascular disease.

The researchers point out that, while this may appear surprising to some, these new results are consistent with several observational studies and randomized controlled trials conducted in Western countries during the last two decades.

The large new study, when viewed in the context of most previous studies, questions the conventional beliefs about dietary fats and clinical outcomes, says Mahshid Dehghan, the lead author for the study and an investigator at PHRI.

“A decrease in fat intake automatically led to an increase in carbohydrate consumption and our findings may explain why certain populations such as South Asians, who do not consume much fat but consume a lot of carbohydrates, have higher mortality rates,” she said.

Dehghan pointed out that dietary guidelines have focused for decades on reducing total fat to below 30 per cent of daily caloric intake and saturated fat to below 10 per cent of caloric intake. This is based on the idea that reducing saturated fat should reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but did not take into account how saturated fat is replaced in the diet.

She added that the current guidelines were developed about four decades ago using data from some Western countries where fat was more than 40 per cent or 45 per cent of caloric intake and saturated fat intakes were more than 20 per cent. The consumption of these are now much lower in North America and Europe (31 per cent and 11 per cent respectively).

The second paper from the PURE study assessed fruit, vegetable and legume consumption and related them to deaths, heart disease and strokes.

The study found current fruit, vegetable and legume intake globally is between three to four servings per day, but most dietary guidelines recommend a minimum of five daily servings. Given that fruits and vegetables are relatively expensive in most middle-income and low-income countries, this level of consumption is unaffordable for most people in many regions of the world such as South Asia, China, Southeast Asia and Africa, where the levels of their consumption is much lower than in Western countries.

“Our study found the lowest risk of death in those who consumed three to four servings or the equivalent to 375 to 500 grams of fruits, vegetables and legumes per day, with little additional benefit for intake beyond that range,” said Victoria Miller, a McMaster doctoral student and lead author of the paper. “Additionally, fruit intake was more strongly associated with benefit than vegetables.

“The PURE study includes populations from geographic regions which have not been studied before, and the diversity of populations adds considerable strength that these foods reduce disease risk.”

Previous research has shown that eating fruits, vegetables and legumes decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and deaths, but most studies were conducted mainly in North America and Europe with a few from other parts of the world.

“Raw vegetable intake was more strongly associated with a lower risk of death compared to cooked vegetable intake, but raw vegetables are rarely eaten in South Asia, Africa and Southeast Asia,” Miller said. “Dietary guidelines do not differentiate between the benefits of raw versus cooked vegetables — our results indicate that recommendations should emphasize raw vegetable intake over cooked.”

Legumes include beans, black beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas and black-eyed peas and are frequently eaten as an alternative to meat or some grains and starches such as pasta and white bread.

“Legumes are commonly consumed by many populations in South Asia, Africa and Latin America. Eating even one serving per day decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Legumes are not commonly consumed outside these geographic regions, so increased consumption among populations in Europe or North America may be favourable,” said Miller.

In a third study, published concurrently by The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, the same researchers looked at the impact of fats and carbohydrates on blood lipids and blood pressure.

They found that LDL (so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol) is not reliable in predicting effects of saturated fat on future cardiovascular events. Instead, the ratio of Apolipoprotein B (ApoB) and Apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1), or organizing proteins in the blood, give the best indication of the impact of saturated fat on cardiovascular risk.

Andrew Mente, an investigator at PHRI and an associate professor of the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence and Impact at McMaster, is an author on the three studies.

“The findings of these studies are robust, globally applicable and provide evidence to inform nutrition policies. This is relevant because in some parts of the world nutritional inadequacy is a problem, whereas in other parts of the world nutritional excesses may be the problem,” he said.

“Most people in the world consume three to four servings of fruits, vegetables and legumes a day. This target is likely more affordable and achievable, especially in low and middle-income countries where the costs of fruits and vegetables are relatively high.”

“Moderation in most aspects of diet is to be preferred, as opposed to very low or very high intakes of most nutrients,” said Salim Yusuf, principal investigator of the study and the director of the PHRI.

Source: McMaster University


Today’s Comic

Maybe Your Diet Is Actually Pretty Good

James McCormack wrote . . . . . .

THE world has seen a plethora of “experts” providing nutritional advice that sounds definitive and evidence-based. Many of us have lived through all the recommendations: low fat then high fat; salt is a problem, then salt is no problem; eggs are good, then they are bad; butter is very bad, margarine is good, then butter is good again; high carbs, then no carbs— and so on.

This befuddlement has led both health-care professionals and members of the public to make recommendations — or even changes in our own diets — that, from afar, resemble a great cosmic yo-yo. With so much wayward nutritional advice, the medical profession has come to look indecisive and sometimes downright silly.

So here we go again.

A few weeks ago, a large (18 countries, five continents, 135,000 people) and long (7.4 years) cohort study on nutrition was published in the Lancet. The resulting headlines were full of hyperbole: “low fat diets could kill you” and “huge diet study shows carbs not fats are the problem.”

But when it comes to interpreting nutritional evidence, you shouldn’t just read the headlines, because the devil is always in the details.

For starters, a cohort study like this cannot determine cause and effect but only give a suggestion as to what might happen when populations consume varying amounts of macronutrients — carbohydrates, fats and protein. The people studied ingested a broad range of macronutrients (anywhere from 45 to 75 per cent of calories from carbohydrates, 10 to 20 per cent from protein and 10 to 35 per cent from fat). The investigators then looked at the association between the percentage of macronutrient intake and major cardiovascular disease and overall death.

What they found is that despite broad macronutrient ranges, there was no association between the percentage of macronutrient ingested over 7.4 years and the chance of a person developing cardiovascular disease— amajor cause of overall disease and death.

An association was seen for overall death. However, even then, an increase in death was only associated with those people who ingested carbs at the highest percentage (around 75 per cent) of the ranges studied, or those who ingested protein or fats at the lowest percentage (around 10 per cent) of the ranges studied.

Importantly, the increase in the risk of death was only around one to two per cent higher for people at these “extreme” ranges — so even for the outliers, 98 to 99 per cent weren’t impacted. In other words, this study seems to suggest that the macronutrient composition of a diet isn’t a big determinant of what makes a diet healthy or not.

When one looks worldwide, macronutrient intake, on average, consists of carbohydrates at 63 per cent of calories, proteins at 11 per cent and fats at 26 per cent.

In developed countries, it is carbohydrates at 53 per cent, proteins at 12 per cent and fats at 34 per cent. So if this Lancet study is correct, the vast majority of us are eating a “healthy” mix of macronutrients.

Now let’s put this cohort study in context alongside randomized controlled trials of different diets — the highest form of evidence. Many might be surprised to learn only three large trials looking at important clinical outcomes have ever been done in nutrition: the 1994 Lyon Diet heart study (primarily men with cardiovascular disease), the 2013 PREDIMED (men and women without cardiovascular disease) and the 2006 Women’s Health Initiative (women without cardiovascular disease).

The first two trials studied versions of a Mediterranean-type diet and found that fatal plus non-fatal cardiovascular disease was reduced by around eight per cent over two years and around one per cent over four years, respectively. The WHI found a lower-fat diet had no impact on cardiovascular disease or any health outcome over eight years.

In other words, the best available evidence — despite the evidence being clearly limited— seems to support a Mediterranean-type diet, which has slightly lower carbs and higher fat than what was evaluated in the Lancet study.

Taking these studies altogether suggests, overall, as long as a person doesn’t eat at the extremes of any macronutrient, they should be just fine.

So, all those people who proselytize low carbs, high carbs, lowfat, high fat — there’s no strong evidence to favour one over the other.

There are two important caveats. One, there are clearly people who do not eat in a healthy manner, but by far their biggest issuewith food is not so much the type but the amount ingested. And two, evidence around diets is also fairly clear when it comes to excessive intake of over-processed food and refined sugars. These consistently seemto be bad actors in the dietary screenplay.

The good news is there’s no yo-yo this time. Looking at the evidence, many of us are eating a reasonable diet when it comes to macronutrients.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

4 Nutrients You Need for a Healthy Vegetarian Diet

Rachel Meltzer Warren wrote . . . . . .

Vegetarian Awareness Month is a good time to note that becoming a vegetarian, even part-time, is a smart move for your health. Plant-based diets help protect against cancer, heart disease, and a number of other health problems.

But there’s a healthy way to follow a vegetarian diet and a not-so-healthy way. Sometimes when people decide to go vegan or vegetarian, they cut out meat and dairy but don’t replace them with foods that are nutritious, and as a result run the risk of falling short nutritionally. For a healthy vegetarian diet, Reed Mangels, Ph.D., R.D., an adjunct associate professor of nutrition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, suggests that you get enough of these four important nutrients.

1. Protein

Your body uses protein to build tissues, including muscle. The recommended amount of protein is 0.4 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day; 1 gram per pound if you are an athlete. Older adults over 65 may need 0.6 gram per pound because muscle mass naturally declines as we get older. For 150-pound person, that’s 60 to 150 grams. Meat and dairy supply a lot of protein, even in a small serving. For example, 3 1⁄2 ounces of chicken breast has 31 grams. Six ounces of nonfat plain Greek yogurt has 18 grams, and one large egg has 6 grams. But there are protein-rich plant foods, too. Some examples include: 4 ounces of tofu, 18 grams; 1 cup of cooked chickpeas, 15 grams; 1 cup of cooked quinoa, 8 grams; and 1 cup of cooked bulgur, 7 grams. For a healthy vegetarian diet, include a muscle-boosting protein source such as beans, nuts, quinoa, and tofu at every meal.

2. Calcium

This mineral helps build bone and is also important for vascular and muscle function and nerve transmission. The amount you need daily is 1,000 milligrams, but needs increase for men once they reach 70 and for women 50 and older. Cut back on dairy products, and your intake of the bone-building mineral will probably take a hit. Include foods such as almonds, broccoli, collard greens, kale, fortified soy or other plant milks, and tofu to meet your needs.

3. Iron

In its plant-based form (“nonheme”), iron isn’t absorbed as well as iron in meats (“heme”). Iron needs drop for women after menopause (men’s needs stay consistent), but getting enough can be a challenge for plant-based eaters of all ages. Pair foods containing the anemia-preventing mineral—lentils, soybeans, Swiss chard—with sources of vitamin C, like oranges and red bell peppers. Doing so helps boost iron absorption.

4. Vitamin B12

Crucial for the brain and nervous system, vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal foods such as meat, shellfish, and dairy products. But many adults over 50 have difficulty absorbing B12 from the usual sources. So look for fortified almond or coconut milk, breakfast cereals, and meat alternatives, like tempeh.

Source: Consumer Reports