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  • Archive for May, 2008

    Cous Cous, Flaxseed, and Soy… Oh My!

    Hodgson Mill offers a wide breadth of healthy products — from ground flaxseed to whole wheat pastas to whole grain pancake and waffle mixes.

    I fully trust that anything they advertise as “whole grain,” truly is.

    No sneaking in refined flours or tacking on isolated fibers to bulk up values on their food label.

    One of my favorite Hodgson Mill offerings is the whole wheat cous cous with soy crisps and milled flaxseed.

    It takes less than ten minutes — and no cooking skills whatsoever, simply boiling water and stirring for 5 seconds — to get it from the box to your table.

    The best part? Each serving provides 6 grams of fiber, 16 grams of protein, 0 milligrams of sodium, and a terrific 450 milligrams of ALA Omega-3 fatty acids in a 230 calorie package.

    The ingredient list is beautifully simple. Whole wheat cous cous, soy crisps, and milled flaxseed. That’s it.

    I love having it as a side dish topped with a sauteed-in-olive-oil mix of garlic, onion, and peppers.

    Another tasty idea is to use it as a base for a refreshing summer salad — simply toss in raisins, chickpeas, diced carrots, red and green pepper strips, and chopped fresh cilantro.

    A triumphant trio indeed.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Soy

    I have heard some forms of soy (i.e.: the fermented kinds) are more healthy than others.

    I have also heard tofu is basically a processed product “cut” with the equivalent of plaster of Paris.

    Soy and soy-based products are tooted by the supposed health conscious community as wonder foods, and i think people are often misinformed in regards to soy products being healthy.

    For instance: those faux chicken patties. How can something so processed be healthy?

    Wouldn’t a person be better off choosing an organic grain-fed chicken breast over something of this nature? likewise, organic soymilk [unsweetened of course] vs organic milk??

    And what about soy estrogens???

    – Brooke Green
    Brooklyn, NY

    Thank you for bringing up the issue of “wonder foods.”

    Although certain foods are more nutritious than others (quinoa surpasses white bread, for example,) I think it is dangerous to label anything as a “wonder food.”

    Such a term inaccurately suggests such foods can be eaten in unlimited amounts.

    Remember — all calories, regardless of the source, add up.

    Extra virgin olive oil certainly has its health benefits, but drowning a salad in 4 tablespoons of it adds 500 calories.

    Anyhow, the key with soy — like with any other food — is to mainly consume it as minimally processed as possible.

    This applies to other foods as well. Take potatoes as an example. It is obviously better to consume them baked and with their skin than out of a Pringles tube.

    So, tempeh (fermented tofu) and edamame offer more nutrition than a processed soy product that could very well contain added sugars, excess sodium, and trans fat.

    This can also be equated to whole grains.

    Some people think a whole grain cookie is automatically healthier than a standard cookie. Not necessarily.

    If the whole grain cookie has twice the calories, sugar, and trans fat of the standard cookie, the whole grain benefit is thwarted.

    I consider the issue of faux chicken patties versus organic chicken breasts to be more about personal ethics than nutrition.

    I think many people choosing faux meats do so out of a personal decision to not eat meat, rather than from a “what is less processed?” angle.

    Keep in mind, though, that many times meat-based frozen products are nutritionally inferior to soy-based ones.

    As far as tofu is concerned — it is one thing to eat “tofu hot dogs” (which are highly processed and thereby high in sodium and chock full of preservatives,) but cubes of regular tofu (pictured, right) thrown into a vegetable stir fry is a great way for vegetarians to get protein, calcium, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

    As for the soy-based estrogens, the only people who should be concerned are women living with breast cancer who consume four or more servings of soy on a daily basis.

    Otherwise, there is absolutely no research showing that one or two daily servings of soy in a healthy individual poses any sort of health risk.

    I don’t recommend gobbling down oodles of soy every day because it contributes quite a bit of Omega 6 fatty acids to the diet (which in itself is not bad, but the typical US diet provides way too much of it and not enough Omega 3′s — nowhere near the ideal ratio.)

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    You Ask, I Answer/In The News: Heart Disease

    In the May 28, 2008 Willamette Week Murmurs column there’s a story about a man doing 25 months in state prison for assault.

    He’s suing Multnomah County and a Philadelphia-based food distributor for serving food he says led to a near-fatal heart fibrillation.

    He claims he was subjected to “criminal inhumanity” in 2007 at the county’s Inverness Jail, where he says food did not comply with the low-fat diet prescribed by his cardiologist.

    Do you think this lawsuit has any merit?

    — David Brown
    Kalispell, MT

    Very coincidental timing! A friend sent me a link to that story 15 minutes before I received your question.

    I was very intrigued and planned on sharing it here.

    I have looked for more details on this case but have been unable to get anything beyond a short paragraph with the most basic information.

    (NOTE: I called the Sheriff’s Office and left a message with Deputy Travis Gullberg, who handles press inquiries. Let’s see if I hear anything!)

    What would help me determine the “merit” of this lawsuit is this man’s cardiac health upon being admitted to prison.

    If he already had heart disease, it is important that he follow a prescribed low-fat diet plan in order to help reverse some of the damage.

    If there is no diagnosis of heart disease in his past, it will certainly be a very hard case to win.

    Of course, there are other legal issues here (i.e.: was the jail notified of his special diet needs by his cardiologist?) but this will be an interesting case to keep an eye on.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Oats

    I’ve been trying to add more soluble fibre to my diet but I can’t STAND oatmeal.

    Am I losing out on any of the properties of the oats by toasting them and having them as part of a home made granola, as opposed to as oatmeal?

    – “J” (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    First of all, I commend you for taking a smart and practical approach to healthy eating.

    J has incorporated a very important nutriton lesson — if a healthy food’s traditional way of preparation and consumption doesn’t quite match up with your palate, think outside the box!

    To answer your question, J, you are not missing out on the health benefits of oats by toasting them. This process does not leech out any nutrients.

    If anything, doing so enhances them by bringing out their delicious nutty flavor and providing a very appealing crunch.

    And, since all you do is spread the oats in a single layer on a baking pan and pop them in the oven for 10 minutes (at approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit), you are not adding extra calories in the form of oil or butter.

    If you feel more comfortable using your stovetop, by the way, you can also toast the oats in a skillet over a medium flame until they turn a slight brown color and you smell a nutty aroma.

    Keep in mind that granola is very calorically dense, so be sure to keep an eye on your portion sizes.

    See how you like adding toasted oats to soups, yogurt, and salads.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Potato Consumption

    While a baked potato with the skin left on is a healthy choice, the question is: how do the majority of North Americans eat their potatoes?

    – Kate (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Great question.

    Here is what the most recent figures from the United States Department of Agriculture reveal.

    In 2002, the “average American” consumed 126 lbs. of potatoes.

    Of these 126 lbs., approximately 24 came exclusively from potato chips (the average American consumed 6 lbs. of potato chips in 2002; it takes 4 pounds of potatoes to make 1 pound of potato chips).

    Frozen potatoes (mainly french fries) totaled 61 pounds.

    Some simple addition reveals that french fries and potato chips make up two thirds of total average potato consumption!

    Not exactly the picture of health.

    We are still missing some vital information, though.

    Although baked potatoes offer a good deal of nutrition (Harvard’s School of Public Health Chair Walter Willett’s claim that potatoes and candy bars are basically nutritionally identical is ludicruous), this survey does not tell us how people are eating them.

    Mainly, how many calories they are being topped with. A pad of butter? Three tablespoons?

    What we certainly know is that such a high consumption of French fries doesn’t spell out good news for our waistlines.

    While a nutritious side dish consisting of medium baked potato topped with a tablespoon of olive oil (that’s quite a bit!) adds up to 280 calories, a large order of fries at McDonald’s contributes 570.

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    Checking in with Oprah

    I recently told you about Oprah’s 21-day vegan cleanse (which, apart from obviously shunning all animal-derived foods, also bans sugar, gluten, alcohol, and caffeine).

    The talk show queen is blogging on her site and updating everyone on her progress.

    Day 1 was fairly easy to traverse.

    You certainly can’t knock it as an unhealthy eating pattern.

    That day alone includes standouts like oatmeal, blueberries, strawberries, wild rice, a baked potato, and olive oil.

    As wonderfully whole as all those foods are, I have some concerns.

    Despite providing sufficient calories (roughly 1,600), fiber, and protein, the total amounts of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium do not meet requirements.

    Additionally, such a heavy reliance on nuts (they are eaten at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and as a snack) really drives up the Omega-6 fatty acid content.

    This is slightly troublesome because, apart from some walnuts at breakfast and olive oil as salad dressing, Omega-3 intake isn’t that high.

    Remember, the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio plays an important role in our health.

    I would personally add flaxseed to breakfast and replace the pinenuts in the dinner salad with nori (or some other sort of seaweed, naturally rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.)

    By the next day, things get interesting — and a little unrealistic. Oprah and her exec producers (also doing this diet with her) get their very own vegan chef!

    And, alas, I’m back to my original gripes with this entire “cleanse.”

    When you start banning multiple food groups and not allowing yourself to have gluten (the most bizarre part of this plan; there is no reason to give up gluten unless you have an intolerance to it) or sugar, you’ll find that unless you are very experienced around a kitchen and alternative ingredients — or hire a personal chef — it is not easy to maintain a dietary lifestyle that is interesting, practical, healthy, and balanced.

    For Oprah and her colleagues to go the personal chef route is a bit of a copout. They should attempt to do this on the average income of an adult in the United States.

    Take this example — on day two, Oprah and her fellow cleansers wake up to strawberry rhubarb wheat-free crepes.

    Do you think that on a random Wednesday morning you’ll find yourself concocting such a recipe in your kitchen at 7 AM? I doubt it.

    A successful eating plan is not only nutritious and tasty, it also has to be convenient. What’s so wrong about some whole or sprouted grain toast with peanut butter?

    Or a bowl of whole grain cereal (slightly sweetened, say a measly 3 grams of sugar per serving) with soymilk and raisins?

    In yesterday’s blog entry
    , Oprah hints at another problem with these overly strict regimens (let me make something very clear: it is one thing to be vegan, but a whole other thing to be a vegan who abstains from sugar, coffee, alcohol, and gluten) — they can render you defenseless outside the four walls of your home.

    Oprah mentions flying to Las Vegas later this week and being slightly nervous about her choices.

    I hope she prepares herself for an eye-opening experience.

    Forget vegan-friendly, Vegas is barely vegetarian-friendly.

    Even something as standard and semi fast food-ish as a veggie burger is hard to come by. The only place where I felt healthy cooking was a priority was the spa at the Venetian Hotel.

    Otherwise, bring your own snacks!

    I found today’s entry to be cause for concern:

    “I hit a wall today. Literally had to stand in my closet and bound the walls, the cabinets, the floor for a few minutes and take some deep breaths.”

    A well-planned, balanced, practical eating plan should not have you feeling like this on day four.

    This is why I very much oppose overnight radical shifts. Not only is there no physiological benefit to banning things left and right from one day to the next, it also conjures up issues of self-flagellation and unnecessary deprivation that often accompany a lot of weight loss plans.

    It particularly upsets me because it sends very erroneous messages: healthy eating is a chore, it involves giving up pleasures, it pushes your body to the limit.

    Nonsense!

    The path to healthy eating and smart choices is not always going to be smooth and easy — it is perfectly common and understandable to have the occassional setback — and extreme approaches such as this “cleanse” certainly don’t help.

    It’s a shame that someone as influential and looked up to as Oprah isn’t using her show as a platform to show that wellness and health can be achieved without personal chefs, swearing off foods, or feeling like the world is caving in on you.

    Anyhow, Oprah has two more weeks to go. I’ll be sure to follow her progress and keep you all in the loop.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Saturated Fat

    So is 30 to 35 percent total fat from calories a moderate-fat diet and above 35 percent a high-fat diet?

    How much fat, as a percentage of total calories, do you think is safe to consume?

    What do you see as the safe upper limit for total fat intake?

    How much saturated fat can one consume with out risking clogged arteries?

    – David Brown
    Kalispell, MT

    Since we are talking about ranges, there is room for fluidity.

    Here is how I break it down.

    Anything below 15 percent of total calories from fat falls under the “very low fat” category.

    I classify the range between 15 and 30 percent of total calories from fat as “low-fat” (with, say, 16 percent being closer to “very low in fat” and 29 being very close to “moderate”).

    The 30 – 40 range is “moderate”, and anything above 40 is “high”.

    What makes your question much more complex, though, is that fat is by no means a simple nutrient.

    I can not simply throw out a figure and say, “Consume 35 percent of calories from fat” without giving additional detail.

    For example, make most of those fats mono and polyunsaturated, aim for an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio no higher than 5:1, and avoid artificial trans fats (some animal meats naturally contain trans fats, which I am not worried about).

    If someone’s “35 percent of total calories from fat” is mainly comprised of trans fats, I would certainly not describe it as healthy intake.

    That same percentage consisting of mainly mono and polyunsaturated fats, however, would get two thumbs up.

    This shouldn’t come as a big shock to regular readers of this blog.

    Besides, does anybody seriously think four strips of bacon or a quarter cup of half and half are healthier than a grilled wild salmon steak or half an avocado?

    As for your safe upper limit question: you won’t find a technical “Upper Limit” (how much of a nutrient it takes to have detrimental, rather than beneficial, health effects) for saturated fat.

    However, the 10 percent figure (which, as I will explain a little later in more detail, basically recommends that people consume no more than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat) serves as an Upper Limit.

    Thereby, intakes of, say, 40 percent have not shown to be beneficial to health.

    One main problem with mainstream talk about nutrition is that it oversimplifies nutrients, especially fats and carbohydrates.

    After all, a carb is not a carb is not a carb. Oatmeal, bananas, and baked potatoes are very different from donuts and Jolly Ranchers.

    The first three provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. The last two are virtually empty calories.

    This is why I strongly oppose blanket statements like, “carbs are bad.” Really?

    You mean to tell me that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are no different than a cupcake?

    It is also important to place nutrients in the right context.

    Sports nutritionists and exercise physiologists agree, based on evidence-based research, that easily digestible carbohydrates that would normally not be outright recommended as highly nutritious (ie: white rice) can serve an important purpose after a strenuous workout.

    Forego carbs after a very intense, long workout and glycogen stores are not fully restored. This is problematic, as it may result in the breakdown of muscle.

    As for how much saturated fat someone can consume without risking clogged arteries, you have to, once again, frame it in the appropriate context.

    I stand by the “make no more than ten percent of your total calories saturated fat” rule, but keep in mind this is over a period of time.

    Let’s assume you eat 2,500 calories a day.

    Ten percent of 2500 calories = 250 calories.

    Divide 250 calories by 9 (the amount of calories per gram of fat) and you get 27.7.

    So, you should get no more than 28 grams of saturated fat a day.

    Does this mean that downing 40 grams at a birthday dinner is going to send you into coronary hell? Not at all.

    What matters, as I always like to mention, are general patterns.

    If you generally stay within that 10 percent figure, your risk is lowered.

    If, however, the norm is 30 percent (in this case, 83 grams of saturated fat a day) for five, ten, or fifteen years, you will very likely run into problems.

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    Numbers Game: Fiber Figures

    A correlation study by Gross et al. published in the May 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that the average per capita total carbohydrate intake in the United States consisted of ______ grams per day in 1909 and ______ grams per day in 1997.

    Fiber intake, meanwhile, was ______ lower in 1997.

    a) 500/500/40
    b) 500/300/15

    c) 500/250/50

    d) 500/200/25

    (NOTE: Other studies show that carbohydrate intake has remained steady since 1997, but since this particular study tabulated numbers until 1997, we’ll leave it at that).

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Sunday for the answer.

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    Nutrition Highs and Lows

    People regularly throw out the terms “low-fat”, “low-carb”, “high fiber” and “reduced sugar” liberally — and often times inaccurately.

    Although the terms “high” and “low”can be subjective (a 15-story building in Manhattan is relatively low compared to the surrounding skyscrapers), they are mostly defined by clear-cut boundaries in the world of nutrition.

    When in doubt, here is a handy guide.

    If you’re talking fats, a “very low fat diet” gets no more than 15 percent of total calories from fat.

    A traditional low-fat diet, meanwhile, consists of no more than 30 percent of calories from fat.

    Keep in mind this is a rather wide spectrum.

    In reality, 16 to 25 percent is truly considered “low fat”. By the time you get to the 25 – 30 percent range, you are crossing into more moderate territory.

    Hence, the latest mainstream recommendations for 30 – 35 percent of calories from fat can not be casted off as “low-fat” dogma.

    The heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet, for instance — which no one would ever describe as “low fat” due to the prevalence of olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish — consists of approximately 30 – 35 percent of calories from fat.

    It is worth pointing out that the Mediterranean Diet is high in monounsaturated fat and very low in saturated fats.

    Mainstream dietitians have no qualms in recommending daily intake of heart-healthy foods like almonds, walnuts, olive oil, salmon, avocado, and flaxseed.

    Although there is no true definition of what a “low carb” diet is, two numbers keep popping up in the literature.

    Many clinical research trials define “low carb” as no more than 60 grams of carbohydrates per day.

    More intense low-carb advocates, however, bring the number down to no more than 30 grams a day (as much as one large apple or one standard slice of bread.)

    Food labels also have to abide by certain protocols (established by the Food & Drug Association) to make “high” and “low” claims.

    In order for a product to be labeled “low fat”, for instance, it must contain no more than 3 grams of fat per serving.

    The term “reduced calories” can only be used on a product that provides at least 25 percent fewer calories than the regular variety.

    Similarly, any product describing itself as “reduced” sugar must offer at least 25 percent less sugar than the regular variety.

    The statement “high in fiber” may only be used on products offering at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

    As for the term “good source of fiber” – you need at least 2.9 grams per serving to qualify.

    Lastly, another interesting one: “light” can be used to describe a product that offers either at least 50% less fat, 33% less calories, or 50% less sodium than the regular variety

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    Give Birth, Lose Weight!

    The latest issue of Us Weekly features Christina Aguilera’s amazing 40-pound weight loss in just 4 months!

    Something smell fishy? It should.

    For starters, her “before” photo isn’t exactly due to one too many Big Macs.

    And the “40 pounds” figure is slightly misleading.

    Find out more in Small Bites’ latest YouTube video!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Starvation Mode

    I found your site from Google looking for info on the alleged philosophy of your body going into “starvation mode” if it doesn’t get enough calories.

    I thought I remember seeing a tv special with Dr. Oz de-bunking this.

    [He experimented on] a small number of people from Europe [and] found that it’s NOT TRUE.

    What say you?

    – Laura Lafata
    Miami Beach, FL

    I am not familiar of any experiment Dr. Oz conducted to debunk this, especially since it is not a myth.

    It is a real, documented physiological state.

    Here’s what I do know in relation to Dr. Oz and “starvation mode.”

    A quick glance through You On A Diet: The Owner’s Manual for Waist Management (the book he co-authored with Dr. Michael Roizen) reveals the following passage:

    “During the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, people eat only after sunset, so they consume all their calories at night. Should they lose weight?

    Anecdotal evidence, gathered by doctors watching residents working all-night shifts, indicates that people who eat all their 2,000 daily calories in one meal gain more weight than those who space those calories over three meals.

    Why? Because the one-timers are kicking in their starvation mode, making their bodies want to store fat rather than burn it.”

    And then there’s this:

    “Eat throughout the day so that you’re constantly satisfied. The less you eat, the more likely you are to sink into starvation mode and make your body want to store fat.”

    So, if anything, Dr. Oz abides by the “starvation mode” concept – as he should!

    If we’re talking “across the board numbers,” any meal plan contributing less than 1,200 calories a day puts you in the “starvation mode” category (meaning that our bodies protect fat stores by slowing down the weight-loss process as much as possible).

    If these low caloric amounts are continued for a long time, the body continues to resist by saving adipose tissue (fat) and instead sacrificing muscle tissue.

    That is NOT good news.

    Ultimately, metabolism is compromised (sometimes permanently) and returning to a healthy caloric intake results in weight gain.

    This is why it is important to lose weight in a healthy way, not only by getting sufficient nutrients, but also by working with, rather than against, our metabolism.

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    You Oat To Know

    One of my co-workers recently asked me what the difference was — from a nutritional standpoint — between steel-cut oats, quick-cooking oats, and instant oatmeal.

    Answer: there really isn’t any!

    They are all a nutritious whole grain that offers soluble fiber (the kind that has been linked to a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol levels).

    (Quick review: insoluble fiber — found entirely in whole wheat products and partially in fruits, vegetables, and legumes — speeds up the transit of foods in the digestive system.)

    The difference between these varieties of oats and instant oatmeal ultimately comes down to processing techniques.

    Whereas steel-cut oats are — ready for a shocker? — cut by rotating steel blades into tiny groats, quick-cooking oats and instant oatmeal go some extra processing that produces a flat flake.

    If you look at their respective nutrition labels,  steel-cut oats appear to contain more fiber than their quick cooking counterparts. However, this is simply due to different serving sizes. It’s akin to a one-ounce slice of whole wheat bread containing 3 grams of fiber and a 1.5 ounce slice providing 4.5 grams. The larger slice may appear to be a “better source” of fiber, but ounce by ounce the two are equal.

    While steel cut oats have a lower glycemic index than flattened oat flakes, I don’t consider the difference significant.  Additionally, it is more important to consider glycemic loads (how what you add to your oatmeal affects its glycemic index).

    You can’t go wrong by buying plain (unsweetened, no salt added) oatmeal and jazzing it up with nuts, seeds, spices, and some fruit.  Additionally, cooking it in milk (dairy or otherwise) adds protein and additional nutrients.

    The problems begin when you buy flavored varieties than add sodium and up to 4 or 5 teaspoons of sugar.  So, keep it simple, real, and whole!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Saturated Fat (Part Two)

    You said, “I fail to understand why Taubes and his supporters practically worship saturated fat but completely fail to mention the health benefits of monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.” In the above you attribute extreme viewpoints to your opponents to discredit their opinions. Really now!

    We who don’t believe saturated fats constitute a health hazard do not worship or ignore fats. We simply try to put them in their proper dietary perspective.

    In the case of saturated fats, they have been maligned for forty years by public health, the food manufacturing industry, government agencies, vegetarian activists, the American Dietetic Association, and virtually every major health promotion organization in existence. This is a fact. This is not my opinion. Saturated fats are, in truth, beneficial.

    The body converts carbohydrates to saturated fats to burn for energy.

    Animals of all sorts make saturated fats in their bodies to burn for energy and to use for building cell structure.

    – David Brown
    Kalispell, MT

    The accusation that I am “attribut[ing] extreme viewpoints to [my] opponents to discredit their opinions” is ironic considering that Gary Taubes uses that tactic often.

    I have never heard him acknowledge that most of the nutrition community is NOT pushing low-fat diets.

    It is one thing to have diet books (NOT written by Registered Dietitians) saying low-fat is best, but they do not represent the nutrition community.

    I do not agree with Taubes’ views, but where on my blog do you see me urging people to shun fats?

    I’m also not sure how the “food manufacuring industry” has been maligning saturated fats. Many food products offer it in substantial amounts.

    If anything, don’t you find it interesting that so many different entities (the government, ‘vegetarian activists’, food companies) with varying interests all agree on limiting saturated fats?

    I also want to answer a few of your statements.

    “The body converts carbohydrates to saturated fats to burn for energy.”

    No. Carbohydrates are converted to glucose.

    Again, Taubes and his supporters need to think outside the box and realize that many dietitians (and myself, as a future Registered Dietitian) are NOT suggesting replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates, but rather with healthier fats.

    “Animals of all sorts make saturated fats in their bodies… used for building cell structure.”

    That’s cholesterol you are thinking about, not saturated fat.

    Unlike with trans fats, no one is being asked to cut out saturated fats from their diet; simply to limit them to a certain amount.

    Very simply — put them in a proper perspective.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Saturated Fat

    You mentioned that saturated fat is the “bad” fat and this definitely is the common understanding these days.

    Have you read any conflicting evidence about this?

    After reading the first half of Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories I came to the conclusion that saturated fat really isn’t a big deal unless you’re in the extreme heart disease risk category, which, at 27 and with normal cholesterol levels, I don’t think I am.

    And, while I don’t agree with Taubes’ anti-carb approach, I found his evidence about regarding the fat-cholesterol link (and how research was so highly influenced by politics, guesswork, and some key personalities) very interesting, and moderately convincing.

    It seems that cholesterol levels are only veeery minimally affected by saturated fat in one’s diet.

    I’m wondering how you feel about this aspect of his argument, or if you’ve seen other people calling the evilness of saturated fat into question recently.

    I thought I had it all figured out, but this is the one thing I’m still not sure about.

    Thanks so much.

    – Meredith (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Gary Taubes is certainly not the first — or only — person to question the saturated fat/heart disease connection.

    Although some studies date as far back as the 1950s, Mr. Robert C. Atkins brought the research out of the scientific community and into the mainstream.

    He — along with his proteges — claimed that eating endless amounts of steaks, butter, and bacon actually led to healthier lipid profiles than low-fat, high-carb diets.

    And so we come back to the issue of flawed logic. Let me explain.

    Like Atkins, Taubes and his ilk approach this scenario from a very narrow “black or white” perspective.

    Firstly, they are quick to judge detractors as low-fat advocates.

    This is grossly inaccurate. For instance, I strongly disagree with Taubes, but a quick browse through this blog makes it clear I do not advocate low-fat diets.

    Instead, I believe that an adequate amount of the right fats is crucial for our health.

    I fail to understand why Taubes and his supporters practically worship saturated fat but completely fail to mention the health benefits of monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.

    They aren’t saying “fat is healthy; make sure to include almonds, olive oil, and wild salmon in your diet!” Instead, they pretty much push red meat and bacon.

    Mind you, current guidelines do not call for a complete elimination of saturated fat from the diet; they simply suggest no more than 20 grams a day (assuming a daily intake of 2,000 calories).

    Many dietitians — myself included — recommend a low intake of saturated fat, but simultaneously urge people to seek out the healthy fats found primarily in salmon, olive oil, walnuts, flaxseed, and avocados.

    Although there are some professionals who advocate very low-fat diets — Dean Ornish comes to mind — many of the dietitians I know do not support skimping on healthy fats.

    Now, when you compare a high-fat (in this case, saturated fat) low-carb diet to a high-carb (conveniently, high in refined carbohydrate), low-fat diet, the high-fat diet will lead to a better lipid profile (triglycerides, for instance, are related to refined carbohydrate intake, not dietary fat).

    This, however, is misleading.

    It’s akin to only comparing bronze (diet high in refined carbohydrates and low in fat) and silver (diet high in fat, albeit saturated, but low in refined carbohydrates) and claiming silver to be the most expensive metal.

    Yes, the most expensive of the two.

    But, bring in platinum (a diet low in saturated fat but high in mono unsaturated fats and whole grains) and suddenly silver doesn’t look quite as amazing.

    I would like Gary Taubes to compare two high-fat diets (one high in saturated fats, one high in mono and polyunsaturated fats) and conclude, with a straight face, that the saturated fat-rich one is the healthiest.

    There are literally hundreds of human clinical research studies showing a correlation between saturated fat intake and heightened coronary heart disease risk.

    One interesting one was published in the July 2005 edition of the British Medical Journal.

    Turns out that, in 1991, the Polish government stopped subsidising foods high in saturated fat.

    Eleven years later, “deaths from coronary heart disease had dropped by over a third in the 45-64 age group – a 38 per cent drop for men and 42% for women.”

    During this time, saturated fat consumption fell by 7 percent, and — more importantly — polyunsaturated fat consumption increased by 57 percent!

    We again come back to the notion that the key is not in reducing total fat intake, but in replacing saturated fats with healthier varieties.

    Taubes happily bashes anyone recommending a low-fat diet, but what are his arguments against replacing saturated fats with Omega-3 fatty acids (a type of polyunsaturated fat) for improved lipid profiles?

    Moving on to red meat, there is also a good deal of research showing that colon cancer risk is indeed affected by red meat consumption (this 2006 meta-analysis from the Pakistan Journal of Nutrition summarizes some major findings well).

    A great Italian study by Talvani et al in 2000 also looked at red meat intake and cancer risk.

    I recall Mr. Taubes scoffing and referring to all this evidence as “questionable” when he was on Charlie Rose several years ago.

    How he came to that conclusion I do not know.

    In my mind, sanctifying saturated fat and telling people to eat it liberally is irresponsible.

    By the way, this idea that advice to eat less red meat is some sort of conspiracy relating to politics is rather laughable since, as Marion Nestle brilliantly explains in Food Politics, the national beef association threw a major hissy fit when Dietary Guidelines originally urged the public to simply “consume less red meat”.

    They were quickly changed to “choose lean cuts of meat,” so as to not offend the powerful beef lobby.

    We come back, as always, to the issue of moderation.

    Have a slice of Swiss cheese here and there or pour a splash of whole milk into your morning coffee if it makes you happy; just don’t make saturated fats the main players of your diet.

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    Weekend Fun: Trying the Cleanse

    Here is a fun Memorial Day “bonus” video from the YouTube Small Bites Nutrition channel.

    Everything starts off as fun and games.

    That is, until I sip from my “Master Cleanse” glass…

    Watch the video here or enjoy it right below this sentence!

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