Opinion: Veganism and Health

Paul Landini wrote . . . . . . .

I’ve covered a variety of health and fitness topics, although there’s one in particular that I’ve refrained from tackling despite it being the most near and dear to my heart. Well, here it is: My name is Paul and I’m a vegan.

This is hardly the radical statement it may have been 10 years ago. When you can find dairy-free ice cream and organic tofu at Walmart – or when McDonald’s announces the test launch of a vegan burger – you’ve officially entered the mainstream. Hollywood, health gurus (both phony and legit) and pro sports have all embraced veganism with a fervour typically reserved for pseudo-religious cults (which, some might say, is exactly what veganism is, but that’s a topic for another time).

So while, yes, it’s now easier and more socially acceptable to live a plant-based lifestyle, in the gym, the idea still raises some skeptical eyebrows. To many lifters, vegans are skinny, patchouli-stinking hippies that can’t bench-press worth a damn. I assure you, this is not the case. I’m not the biggest or strongest guy on the block, but I can dead-lift more than twice my body weight, fire off 30 strict push-ups with relative ease and, last I checked, my pull-up max was 15 reps. These numbers won’t win me any world titles, but they do prove you can build muscle and get strong without eating animals.

The belief that meat equals muscle is deeply entrenched in lifting culture, but that’s changing. Strong and shredded vegans such as Mike Mahler, Scott Shetler, Vanessa Espinoza and Torre Washington have helped disprove many of the myths surrounding our ever-growing subculture. Now, here I am doing my part: I present to you three of the most pervasive fallacies that dog athletic vegans.

We’re not protein deficient

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me where I get my protein from. No joke, it happens every day.

For such a protein-obsessed society, we know little about what this macronutrient does, how much of it we need and where it comes from.

Dietary protein is needed because it delivers amino acids to our bodies. Amino acids perform many important functions, including tissue repair and muscle growth, so it’s understandable why lifters value it so highly. Here’s the thing, though. Protein isn’t hard to come by.

You can easily obtain all you need (1-2 grams per kilogram of body weight is sufficient for just about everyone) on a plant-based diet. Lentils, tempeh, beans and quinoa are all protein-rich foods that never had a face.

We’re not hormonally challenged

Earlier this month, I heard my favourite bit of anti-vegan misinformation. In between sets of squats, a newly vegan lifter was talking about his recent conversion with a group of friends. They were discussing diet when, upon hearing the word “tofu,” the largest of the group snorted and said, “Dude, you know that stuff is filled with estrogen, right?”

Dude-bro wasn’t wrong, but he wasn’t right either. Tofu is made from soy and soy contains a plant-based estrogen (also called phytoestrogen) compound called isoflavone.

But guess what? So do dozens of other foods – apples, yams, carrots and coffee, to name a few – that people eat all the time. Outdated studies once linked phytoestrogens to breast and prostate cancer, but they have since been discredited. The hysteria over soy’s estrogen-like qualities are overblown, to say the least. Guys, fear not: You won’t need to go bra shopping if you pour soy milk in your smoothies.

We’re not paragons of virtue and health

A small but vocal contingent of vegans carry themselves with an obnoxious aura of healthiness that would make Gwyneth Paltrow proud.

These people, well-intentioned as they may be, are misguided. Removing animal products from your diet isn’t a magical panacea. It’s true that, when done right, a vegan diet has a bunch of health benefits, but the same goes for non-vegan diets, too.

The key here is the “when done right” part

I know proud vegans whose vegetable intake is limited to french fries and onion rings, just as I know meat-eaters who pile greens on their plate at every meal. I don’t buy the notion that eating meat is inherently unhealthy. Processed and packaged meat is garbage, yes, but so are processed and packaged meat alternatives.

A healthy diet looks the same for everyone: lots of fruits and vegetables, some whole grains and healthy fats, plus some protein.

Source: The Globe and Mail

Opinion: Nutrition Literacy for the Health Literate

Stefania Velardo wrote . . . . .

A recent discussion with a family member brought to light a new diet plan that had endorsed by her personal trainer. As we engaged in discussion, she excitedly recounted the list of food inclusions within the new diet; for example, she could eat white table sugar and saturated fat aplenty, amidst other appealing food choices. Yes to baked potatoes with lavish lashings of butter. Yes to coffee with sugar and cream.

As the conversation progressed I became more intrigued as she out-lined an extensive list of food exclusions, including whole grains and green leafy vegetables.

This provided a great contrast to her previous diet plan, which emphasized lean protein, limited fat and dairy, and an abundance of raw vegetables.

When I questioned her about this apparent contradiction, and the fact that this plan undermined well established government dietary guidelines that promote a wide variety of foods, she assured me that this diet was based on concrete scientific evidence and further legitimized through a worldwide movement of online posts, blogs, and forums. This is not the first occasion on which I have engaged in conversations that elicit differing views of scientific nutrition recommendations.

One woman recently testified, “I read that I should be eating rice malt syrup instead of honey.” whereas another person pondered, “Should I be eating a Paleo Diet?” Such conversations reflect a healthism discourse that emphasizes the need to know about our food and take responsibility for making the right choices. But what happens when the right choices are confusing?

A key tenet of nutrition literacy is one’s ability to access, understand, and use nutrition information in ways that promote health. Whereas low nutrition literacy presents a barrier to healthy eating, less is known about the challenges faced by supposedly health-literate individuals who are health conscious and possess a basic level of nutrition knowledge.

In revisiting the opening example, it is important to note that the family member in question is an enthusiastic, fit woman in her thirties who boasts high levels of literacy and numerous university degrees. On paper she demonstrates a strong ability to access, understand, and use nutrition information and resources in a health-promoting way. She cares about nutrition; yet her ideas clearly contradict government advice. She is arguably health literate, but to what extent?

This is not a new problem by any means. Health and dieting are profitable markets that continue to expand globally. Over the years we have witnessed countless pervasive weight-control myths and fads along with various products and lifestyles promoted within a health discourse. Yet the proliferation of the Internet and a surge of short courses, inflated credentials, and pseudo-expert blogs arguably make it more difficult to educate consumers about what constitutes professional nutrition advice. The existence of multiple stakeholders with competing interests means that consumers are confronted with increasing amounts of contradictory nutrition information through the media. It is not surprising, then, that nutrition messages are often a key source of confusion and uncertainty for individuals.

Nutrition practitioner and health educators have a clear role in promoting and disseminating credible, reliable nutrition information and resources to the public. More than ever, our roles must extend to challenging art increasing wave of pseudo-science while advocating for sound nutritional guidance so that people can develop positive relationships with a wide range of foods. High levels of critical nutrition literacy are clearly required to discern credible information based on rigorous scientific evidence from personal testimonials endorsed by so-called professionals. Developing these skills among different population groups, including the supposedly health literate, is essential at a time when many consumers feel confused, skeptical, and helpless.

Source: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour

What Women with Breast Cancer Should Know About Estrogens

Jeffrey D. Blaustein, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst wrote . . . . .

One of every eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over her lifetime. Eighty percent of those cancers are fueled in part by estrogens.

One treatment for women whose breast cancer is fueled by estrogen – or what is often called estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer – is for them to take drugs that block estrogens. But estrogens have benefits that should be considered.

This particularly affects postmenopausal women who have gone through the trauma of surgery for invasive breast cancer. They are typically faced with a very difficult decision. Should they take estrogen blockers or not? Is the treatment worth it, balancing the risk of recurrence of the cancer with potential quality-of-life issues?

When prescribing a particular drug for postmenopausal, ER-positive, breast cancer survivors, physicians often consider the effects of estrogen blockers on bone and the uterus.

However, they also need to consider the effects on other aspects of these women’s health. Estrogens also have many positive effects on mental health, cognitive function, libido and protection of the brain, possibly even slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

I am a neuroendocrinologist, and I have studied the effects of hormones, including estrogens, on the brain, behavior and mental health for over 40 years. Not only is the fact that “estrogen” is actually a class of hormones not well understood, but so are the many positive functions of estrogens. As with any health treatment, the potential negative effects should be weighed against the potential positive effects.

There is no hormone called estrogen

First, a primer on what exactly “estrogen” is. There is actually no hormone called “estrogen.” Estrogens are a class of hormones. There are three different forms of estrogens in the body: estradiol, estriol and estrone. Although they are all pretty similar in function, they vary in potency. Estrogens found in plants, like soy, are also sometimes simply called “estrogen,” although their effects may differ from those of the estrogens produced in the body.

Estradiol is the dominant estrogen circulating prior to menopause. It is produced mainly in the ovaries. In most cases, this is the most potent form of estrogen. During pregnancy, the dominant form is estriol, produced by the placenta. And during menopause, when the levels of estradiol decrease, the dominant estrogen is estrone, produced in fat tissue.

The ovaries stop producing estrogens during menopause, resulting in lower levels of estrogens in the body. Yet other organs, including fat and the brain, continue to produce them. There are still estrogens doing whatever they were doing before, but because their levels are lower, they are not doing their work as effectively.

One class of estrogen blockers that is often prescribed for women with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer does its job by blocking estrogens from getting to the receptors of the cells in the body, including cancer cells. The body still produces estrogens, but their effects are blocked in some cells.

A second class, called aromatase inhibitors, blocks the production of estrogens. Both types of estrogen blocker act in the brain as well as the breast, ovaries, vagina and many other parts of the body.

Since these drugs block the effects of estrogens, we should expect that, besides blocking the negative effects of estrogens on the breast cancer, they will block the positive effects on the brain and on mental health.

Unfortunately, many experiments directly assessing the effects of these drugs in breast cancer survivors are missing essential controls. It would not be ethical to give one group of women with a high risk of recurrence of breast cancer a placebo.

However, although much more research on the effects of anti-estrogens in postmenopausal women with breast cancer is needed, by considering what we know about the effects of estrogens from animal studies, all that we know about the effects of estrogens in women without breast cancer and what we know from some studies about the effects of anti-estrogens in breast cancer survivors, we can conclude that anti-estrogens are likely to compromise quality of life in some women.

What are the positive effects of estrogens?

The many positive functions of estrogens and their effects on health are often underestimated.

Estrogens are responsible for the development of reproductive tissues and female secondary sexual characteristics (like breasts) at puberty. They also maintain bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis, which can result in brittle bones that break easily. But the role estrogens play in women’s health goes far beyond reproductive health and bone density.

Some of the most profound effects of estrogens are in the brain. For instance, hot flashes, which many women experience while going through menopause, are due to the loss of estrogens acting on brain areas involved in temperature regulation.

They can also influence cognitive function – how we think, particularly verbal memory and fluency, which is the memory of words and how we express ourselves in language. And around the time of menopause in many women, they are believed to have an anti-depressive effect.

Sleep disturbances during menopause are believed to be caused by absence of the estrogens acting on sleep centers in the brain. The decreased actions of estrogens on the brain during menopause may also influence sexual desire.

And finally, estrogens may be protective in the brain. This has been demonstrated in nonhuman primates. In women, estrogens may decrease the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease if hormone replacement begins soon after menopause.

After menopause, the level of estrogens drops to low amounts. Appreciable amounts are still produced in fat tissue. We now believe that the brain also produces some estrogens as well, a topic that is being studied right now.

Weighing the pros and cons of estrogen blockers

Should women with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer take inhibitors of estrogens? The decision of whether or not to use estrogen blockers is a complex one that each woman must make in consultation with her oncologist.

The potential negative effects of these blockers on the brain and quality of life should be weighed against the potential positive effects on recurrence of the cancer. The answer to this will depend on the absolute risk of recurrence of the cancer.

In making a decision about a treatment that could impact quality of life, it would be most helpful to speak with an oncologist who is fully aware of the potential negative, as well as positive, effects of these drugs.

Source: The Conversation

In My “Opinion”, …

From Daily Kos . . . . .

Recently one of my Facebook friends posted the clever cartoon shown above. I love the drawing in which what appears to be 4 beams on the left morph into what appears to be 3 beams on the right. But I’m not sure that I agree with the quote from Marcus Aurelius. Surely there are some facts that are not merely opinion? For example, I’m pretty sure it’s a fact that I have 4 dogs. I would have to question the sanity of one who, having been to my home, stated the opinion that I have 5 dogs. At any rate, this cartoon got me thinking about the matter of “opinion”.

The Oxford Current English Dictionary (1998) defines an “opinion” as “an unproven belief”. This is the primary definition of the word; the definition first listed; the implicitly understood meaning of the word.

We hear many opinions expressed daily, about all varieties of issues, and many of them grate on the mind primarily because they strike us as somehow illegitimate. The question I will briefly address here is this: Under what circumstances is it legitimate to express an opinion about something (a phenomenon, a person, an idea, so on)? Our guiding principal will be that it is legitimate to say, “In my opinion, X is…” when the reality, truth, or validity of X is at present NOT KNOWN, or worse, is UNKNOWABLE. It follows from this that the person expressing the opinion is obligated to know or investigate what is currently known about “X”. Purposely remaining ignorant about an issue on which you express an opinion does not make your opinion legitimate just because YOU do not know what is or is not known about X. We often hear it said that “everyone is entitled to an opinion on X, and one opinion is just as valid (legitimate) as another”. We might call this the principal of equal rights for opinions, or opinion relativism. The statement itself is an opinion, and in my view is illegitimate. There is no entitlement accompanying opinions. And seldom is one opinion about an issue equally as valid as another. Validity of opinions must be based on what is or can be known about X, not on what one might wish were true.

A series of examples will hopefully serve to illustrate this criterion of legitimacy. Consider these “opinions”, some of which can be heard expressed almost daily on the news.

1) In my opinion, light blue is the most soothing color.
2) In my opinion, the sun revolves around the earth.
3) In my opinion, the increasing atmospheric level of carbon dioxide does not cause global warming.
4) In my opinion, climate change is a hoax.
5) In my opinion, Donald Trump is the best candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination.
6) In my opinion, Dick Cheney is a psychopath.
7) In my opinion, we should say “All Lives Matter” instead of “Black Lives Matter”
8) In my opinion, increasing the minimum wage will result in increased unemployment.
9) In my opinion, a God exists.

So, let’s take these one at a time and attempt to assess the validity of the opinions expressed. The question to ask about each is, “Is this something one can have an opinion about; or is this a matter of fact?”

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Read more . . . . .

Opinion: Everything You Think You Know about Happiness Is Wrong

Jess Whittlestone wrote . . . . .

For many of us, happiness is the ultimate goal in life, worth pursuing above all else. If you’d asked me a few months ago, I would have agreed. But recently, I’ve been thinking about the kinds of mistakes we make when pursuing happiness. I’ve been wondering whether the biggest mistake might be seeing happiness as something we should be aiming for at all.

Mistake 1: Not thinking about what happiness means

For all the focus we devote to happiness, we rarely spell out what it means. In fact, there are multiple ways we might interpret “happiness.”

One important distinction is between intense, short-term forms of happiness—excitement, euphoria—and less intense, but perhaps more stable, feelings of calmness and contentment. Receiving a compliment from someone you really like might feel fantastic for a few hours, but it’s likely to dissipate in a day or so. By contrast, feeling like you having meaningful and supportive relationships in your life can give you a lower, but much more consistent, happiness boost. In an interesting paper in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers distinguished between two different kinds of happiness—calm and excitement—and found that they were experienced differently depending on the time frame the person was thinking in. When we’re focused on the present, we’re more likely to feel happiness in the form of calmness; when we’re focused on the future, we’re more likely to feel excitement.

It’s not that some forms of happiness are necessarily better than others—they’re different, and pursuing them means different things. In The Happiness Myth, Jennifer Hecht points out that different kinds of happiness are rarely in harmony with one another. Going after intense, positive experiences in the moment might lead us to neglect the things that lead to longer-term life satisfaction—neglecting old friends in favor of exciting new acquaintances or skipping a day of work to go to the movies.

So if we want to be “happy,” we need to think carefully about the kind of happiness we’re aiming for and what tradeoffs we’re willing to make. If we don’t do this, pursuing “happiness” as a broad goal could mean you end up going after the wrong things.

Mistake 2: Looking for happiness in the wrong places

There are many things in life that give us an intense, short-term boost of happiness: getting a promotion, buying a new car or piece of clothing, or receiving a compliment. When we experience that boost, we naturally want more of whatever caused it—intense positive emotions are strongly reinforcing. Because the feedback is much more immediate and intense, strong emotions can be much more reinforcing than sustained, but less intense, positive emotions we get from a satisfying period of hard work, or a relationship with someone we’ve known for a long time. We might be naturally motivated to seek out things that bring us more intense forms of happiness. This is fine, of course, if you’ve reflected and decided that’s a tradeoff you want to make. But for most people, I imagine that’s not the case.

It’s also natural to feel your happiness depends a lot on how certain key aspects of your life are going: how much you enjoy your career, and whether you have close, meaningful relationships. But this could be more dangerous than it seems. Research in psychology suggests that we tend to overestimate the long-term impact (pdf) of even the biggest life changes on our happiness. We’re surprisingly good at adapting to new things—good and bad—and returning to a baseline level of happiness. This doesn’t mean you won’t be happier with your life if you’re in a job you find fulfilling than if you dread going to work every day. But it does mean we should be careful not to put too much of our hope for happiness in “finding the perfect job/relationship.” Even if we do find these things, we’ll inevitably find more things to be dissatisfied about. The unfortunate nature of happiness, it seems, is that it’s like a treadmill: there’s always more ground to cover.

Mistake 3: Wishing things were different

Have you ever been in a meeting at work, desperately wishing you were somewhere else? Or wished you looked slightly different or lived somewhere else or that a skill you struggled with came more easily to you?

Pursuing happiness can backfire when we start wanting to change things that aren’t within our control. It’s easy to think of ways in which we’d be happier if things were different, which is precisely why we’re never totally satisfied. Ultimately, the things we think our happiness depends on aren’t totally within our control. We can’t control whether we get our dream job or not. We can’t control what other people think of us. We can’t control the weather. We can influence some of these things with our actions, but sometimes things don’t go our way and there’s nothing we could have done differently.

Wanting to change things that aren’t within your control is perhaps the best way to live a life filled with frustration and dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, it can be the very pursuit of happiness that often leads people to this state of frustration with how things currently are.

Mistake 4: Thinking we should be happy all the time

Because there are so many things influencing our happiness that aren’t in our control, it’s impossible to be happy all the time. Bad things are going to happen to you over the course of your life. Someone you love will get sick and die. You’ll have days where getting through everything you have on your plate feels like an impossible struggle. You’ll experience your fair share of negative emotions, and that’s OK. Fighting those negative emotions when they’re appropriate—telling yourself you shouldn’t be sad when something sad has happened, or beating yourself up for feeling stressed when you’ve got two hours to do two weeks’ worth of work—will only make things worse.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that happiness should always be the goal. But sometimes happiness really isn’t the most useful emotion to be feeling. Sometimes we can’t be euphoric, no matter how hard we try, and trying only makes things worse. Sometimes it’s OK not to be happy.

Mistake 5: Pursuing happiness at all?

Rather than asking, “How can I be happy?” I think we’d be better off asking:

What do I ultimately care about and want to achieve in life?

What kind of person do I want to be?

Then think about how to achieve these goals. When I asked myself the first question, I realized I care most about two things: making the world a better place while doing fulfilling work, and having close and meaningful relationships with other people. Asking the second question, I came up with a list of character traits and attitudes I want to cultivate: compassion, open-mindedness, gratitude, and curiosity. Unlike “being happy,” these are more specific, actionable, and within my control.

Ironically, these are exactly the kinds of things that researchers would advise you focus on if you want to be happy: finding satisfying work and meaningful relationships, doing things for others, appreciating the good things in your life. The difference is that I’m not suggesting we should do these things because they’re going to make us happy. We should consider what we really care about and who we want to be, and let that guide our choices and actions. Happiness isn’t a goal, it’s a signal that we’re living life well and in accordance with what we care about. But it’s a noisy signal, and sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s producing it. We have to be careful to not get so caught up in chasing the signal that we lose sight of what it’s really trying to tell us.

Source: QUARTZ