Yesterday I discussed the much-buzzed-about Stanford Atkins study…at length. As many of you know, I am very much in favor of a diet that is high in good fats, lean protein, and green vegetables – and very low in carbohydrates, particularly refined and grain carbohydrates.
“Atkins” and “low-carb” are controversial, attention-getting words because they tend to elicit images of bacon, butter and grease. While I am big on low-carb, I’m also big on doing it sensibly.
I think it’s clear that those on low-carb diets do experience both weight loss and health benefits – confounding to conventional nutrition wisdom, but evidently true nonetheless. However, that doesn’t mean a steady diet of sodium-stuffed sausage and chemical-laden deli meat is a sustainable or sensible path to health. If not done correctly, the Atkins diet is more of a vanity diet than a ticket to great health. (The good news: done properly, you can look good and feel good!)
Recently I talked about what I eat in a day, and though you might call it “low-carb”, I think of it as simply eating the way humans should eat (humble, I know). The focus is on fiber from greens, lean meat, good fats from fish and certain vegetable oils, and yes, even some saturated fat. So long as fat isn’t refined, I think much of our dread of saturated fat is overblown. (You all know how I feel about cholesterol – I think inflammation is far more deadly for humans.) I’m inclined to believe it’s the proportion of “good” to “bad” fat that is more important than fretting over the amount of saturated fat in your steak.
The irony, of course, is that a “controversial” diet that doesn’t worry about fat – even saturated fat – and proposes avoiding anything processed, refined or grain-based, is probably closer to nature’s ideal design for the human diet than we’ve been in a long, long time.
If you live on bacon, you will lose weight. You’ll also run the risk of kidney stones…and seriously annoying your friends. But grass-fed steak? Butter on your vegetables? A hearty omelet? I don’t think there’s anything remotely unhealthy in any of these foods. The allegedly healthy alternatives we’ve been sold on for years now – bran flakes, bread, fat-free egg substitutes – aren’t any better for you than French fries, Lucky Charms and cheeseburgers, in my opinion.
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Those Chemicals Sure Are Sparkly!
Vegan Porn (just check out the site) led me to this news item in the New York Times. Faced with angry parents tired of the vending machine mafia, increasing attention to the dangers of sugar (like I always say, sugar is the new trans fat), and a national obesity epidemic, soda makers are trying to come up with better marketing tactics.
Instead of pop or soda, carbonated corn-syrup-fests will now be referred to as “sparkling beverages”. And that’s going to stick? Not as well as your heel does in a day-old pop puddle.
For the first time in America, soda sales are down as people turn to bottled water, iced tea and other healthier choices. This is just ridiculous, frets Coke’s CEO, E. Neville Isdell, because “Diet and light brands are actually health and wellness brands.”
7up started fortifying its soda and making claims about being “all natural” back in 2004, to much furor. In my opinion, adding vitamin C to a can of chemicals isn’t going to do anyone any health favors. But, Isdell and his ilk are convinced this is the right – and healthy – way to go.
Okay. If this is any sign of the times, I see healthy brand extension opportunities here, and not just for soda – er, “sparkling beverages”:
Hard Apple Cider: “Now with selenium. Really puts the little tykes to sleep!”
Krispy Kreme Donuts: “Our tasty rings build crucial motor skills in toddlers. Don’t forget to try out Hostess donut holes for proper grip development!”
Kool-aid: “Yellow No. 5 helps kids learn to count!”
Fortified breakfast pastries: “Just think where your healthy diet would be without 2% of your RDA of iron!”
Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:
Take two and see us in the morning.
Basically Meaningless Index
Science Daily reports that the BMI is a bad idea. We’ve been saying that for some time. And it’s not like we’re alone in this – a lot of health experts have been expressing frustration with reliance on the BMI. Some problems: the BMI does not take bone density, muscle mass or fat percentages into account. And it’s generous to a seriously scary degree. For example, a woman who is 5’7″ and 150 pounds is just as healthy, lean, and fit as a woman who is 5’7″ and 120 pounds, if you follow the metrics of the BMI. Hmm…
Thanks to Float for the photo!
Love Your Liver
…by losing weight. Obesity, more than anything else, affects your health. Obesity sets you up for diabetes, heart disease, depression, and stroke.
And That’s Fit reports: obesity is hard on your liver, making dangerous drug reactions more likely. In other words, being obese not only increases your risk for other diseases, but it increases your risk for having serious problems with the drugs needed to treat those diseases.
There are a lot of ways to lose weight, but among the simplest, most effective of methods is simply cutting out the sugar (soda, snacks, pastries and prepared foods).
This is Shinyai‘s photo of sea toad liver. Now you know!
Seriously, Just Take Some Omega-3′s, Would Ya?
Good fats are good for your brain: more evidence. Fish everywhere do not rejoice.
State of the Union
Guess how many states reveal preventable medical mix-ups? 20? 30? 40? No, unfortunately, only two. All together now: transparency, transparency, transparency!
This week’s Aaron’s Additions brings you a roundup of the biggest, loudest, and by golly, shiniest heart health blogs on the web for your perusing pleasure. The assortment of perspectives out there is enough to send me running for my sneakers. Some are great, but I’ve also included a few that get my heart pounding out of concern. Okay, actually, many of them make me cradle my head in my hands and think about repaving America with running tracks.
The biggest problem I find: even “alternative” heart health blogs still truck out the same Uncle Sam outdated advice: bran flakes, low-fat dairy, fruit juice, and plenty of wailing away at the cardio machines.
The Cardio Blog
A very classy cardio blog that is sadly missing a little “heart” and soul. Nevertheless we keep daily tabs on the frequent multi-author posts for a glimpse of a more traditional health perspective. To wit: in their commentary on CNN’s “9 steps to a healthier heart“, the Cardio Blog dug the recommendation for pomegranate juice (#4). You might recall, yesterday we took issue with #4, and still do – fresh fruit, not juice, is the healthiest bet for your heart.
A Hearty Life
Dr. Lei clearly knows her stuff, and has the best of intentions, but the real bummer is that most of her advice boils down to “if only you’d taken your medication”. I’m sure she knows that 1 in 3 women die of heart disease, so I think it’s only reasonable to suggest that the thinking on heart health needs a hefty overhaul. Let’s start earlier, work harder, and take more assertive preventive action. Now where were those pills…
Can Steve Case – your friendly AOL CEO – really do this? Evidently so. We were turned on to a sneak preview of Revolution Health, Case’s health blog social network brainchild, and surprisingly, it’s not too shabby. In fact, it’s pretty cool. I haven’t found any entertaining angry apples or racist food scams exposed. Nevertheless, this mainstream-attempting-to-appear-cool community does all right. It’s fluffy, but so far appears to be sugar-free. (I can see the top dogs in the boardroom now: “The 25-35 set who watches The Daily Show and can afford hybrids will really like this one, guys…”). Or, as Jon Stewart might say…”Feh.”
Who is this fabulous person behind this fabulous blog? Eat your way to great health – it can be done. Though this blog focuses on other issues besides heart health – probiotics, diabetes, weight loss, allergies – the focus is sensibly alternative without skating into bizarre-theories-r-us territory. I know I’m always shilling this site, but it’s awesome!
No doubt you’ve seen the major news out today that the Atkins diet is significantly more effective for weight loss than higher-carb diets promoted by the likes of Dr. Dean Ornish and Barry Sears. As you’d expect, Ornish says the study is flawed. Sears says the study is bad science. That’s fine, boys. The Atkins followers not only lost weight, they were healthier by the end of the year.
Both Sears and Ornish take issue with the fact that compliance in the study was, at best, half-hearted (meaning the ladies who participated didn’t exactly follow the various plans to the letter).
My response to that is: all the more evidence that upping your protein and fat intake is a wise idea. If you can lose weight, lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk of heart disease, and you don’t even have to follow your diet perfectly…where’s the problem?
A year-long study compared four different diets – Atkins, LEARN (Uncle Sam’s feel-good acronym will not leave you feeling good), the Zone, and Ornish’s bread-buffet regimen. At the end of the year, Atkins followers lost about twice the weight of the other participants. This is no big surprise – it’s yet another study that proves what I’ve been saying for years: cut the carbs.
Critics – mainly, Sears and Ornish – are, as I expected, getting lost in the details and ignoring the big, fat elephant in the room. They point out that ten pounds of weight loss instead of five pounds of weight loss is no big deal.
Well, okay, but that depends on your perspective – I’m willing to bet good money that had the results of the study gone in their favor, they’d be singing a different tune. Instead of “10 pounds is no big deal,” we’d hear: “Double the weight loss – this is huge!” Instead of a “flawed” study, we’d hear: “We’re talking about a long-term, year-long, significant study!” And instead of splitting hairs about the lack of 100% compliance, my guess is that Ornish and Co. would say “This is a realistic study that looks at how people actually follow diets, rather than perfect, artificial conditions in a lab.”
So, while the pasta-and-bread fans are crying to Uncle Sam, here’s the question the rest of us are smart enough to ask:
Why are doctors so afraid of fat?
The overwhelming majority of studies – of all shapes, sizes and ulterior motives – supports, again and again, the case for a high-fat, high-protein diet for humans. And if the weight loss isn’t enough, those who enjoy bacon and butter also lower their cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors.
Doesn’t anyone in the carb camp ever stop and think – wait a minute, why are we subscribing to the low-fat, low-cholesterol dietary model to begin with? (People more cynical than me will note that the corn and wheat industries are among the most powerful lobbies, and the most heavily subsidized industries, in the world.)
How much more evidence is it going to take? Is their low-fat, high-grain diet working for them? After 50-odd years of various high-grain versions of the Prudent Diet, has the approach proven efficacious? Or are we worse off than ever? Come on, guys.
A caveat: I am not in favor of living exclusively on processed bacon and copious amounts of butter. And I am absolutely not saying that vegetarians are misguided (well, maybe a little), or that eating processed meats high in sodium, refined fats and nitrites is a good nutrition plan.
But Bob Atkins was certainly on to something, and study after study proves: reducing sugar and increasing fat and protein will not only make you slimmer, it’ll make you healthier. Check out my buddy Jimmy Moore’s story over at Livin La Vida Low Carb. Jimmy lost a whopping 200 pounds and has experienced a new lease on life since going low-carb. And he’s healthier for it.
I don’t think the question, with all we now know, should be “Does Atkins work”? Obviously, it does. The question we ought to be asking is, “Clearly, fat and protein aren’t so bad. Clearly Bob was on to something. How do we do it the right way?”
Reducing carbohydrates produces appreciable results. Blood sugar drops. HDL increases. Blood pressure drops. Weight falls off. The heart benefits. Why?
Dr. Mary Enig, a terrific researcher, has been challenging the Prudent Diet and the famous “lipid hypothesis” (the theory that fat = high cholesterol = heart disease) for years. She’s been ridiculed. Harassed. Ignored. She’s also been right this entire time.
It’s not cholesterol that is causing the problem here. It’s inflammation. Inflammation is a factor in diabetes, heart disease, arthritis – in fact, most of the major health problems Americans face in skyrocketing numbers. Do you know what causes inflammation?
Sugar. (And refined fats – anything that creates oxidation or triggers an inflammatory response.) Make no mistake: sugar is a toxin. The human body will burn only so much glucose – when we get too much, sugar moves to fat cells. It ravages the bloodstream, attacks the pancreas and thyroid and liver, and sets off a chain reaction that inflammation attempts to correct. Sugar, rather than being the base of the American diet (remember, grains – even whole grains – are metabolized, ultimately, as sugar), ought to be at the very top of the pyramid in the section we reserve for “toxins”, right up there with alcohol and cigarettes. Grains – sugar – create a toxic inflammatory environment very similar to what you see with alcoholics. A little inflammation from time to time can be beneficial – it’s the body’s natural healing mechanism.
Trouble is, the inflammatory benefit quickly disappears, because the body keeps getting inundated with sugar. A little inflammation – like the swelling and redness that you get if you stub your toe – is a beneficial thing. But persistent inflammation is a body on fire.
By this point, the human body is literally “freaking out”, as my kids would say. If you’re a typical American, your body has been flooded for years now with a double-whammy oxidative assault of sugar and refined fats (trans fat). The inflammatory response has set you up for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Your body has one last way to attempt to correct this persistent inflammation.
That’s cholesterol. Cholesterol is literally analogous to the scab that forms when you cut yourself. Cholesterol attempts to “scab” over the inflammation going on all over your body. It’s the body’s desperate attempt to extinguish the fire.
Ironically, a low-fat, high-carb diet only worsens the problem.
Imagine that all this is true. If I’m right, what would happen to a body in this state? Why, aside from likely diabetes, obesity and other problems, you’d have higher cholesterol, too. The more inflamed your insides become, the more cholesterol your body produces as it desperately tries to quell the abuse to your system.
Doctors like Ornish and guys like Sears drive me nuts. A basic understanding of the human body (which I know they possess), along with (more important) a willingness to be open-minded and accept the evidence that the lipid hypothesis was probably wrong, would go a long way towards explaining the “perplexing” results of studies like this one. I’d like to pry open their brains and yell: guys, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…it’s probably sugar.
Tomorrow, I’ll be bringing you my suggestions for doing “low carb” the right way – sausage and bacon ain’t it. Later this week, be sure to catch my posts on why variety isn’t necessary, why longevity misses the boat, and more thoughts guaranteed to piss off your HMO, your doctor, and your government.
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