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    Archive for the ‘low-carb’ Category

    A Very Gimmicky View

    425.the.view.081208The View is no stranger to”did they really just say that?” moments (remember Sherri Shepherd’s claim that not only she did not know whether the Earth was round or flat but had no time to find out because she was too busy raising her  children?).

    This past Friday, what could have been your typical weight-loss-in-the-coming-year segment made my jaw hit the floor and my eyebrows catapult to the ceiling.

    Rather than bring on an expert (imagine that — someone who knows what they’re talking about!) to discuss three or four often-overlooked healthy changes that could make a real difference in people’s lives, producers thought it would be better to instead expose millions of viewers to five gimmicky diet plans that only further confuse the public.

    Oh-so-coincidentally, View co-host Whoopi Goldberg is on one of them right now.

    The first recommended diet?  None other than Dr. Segal’s Cookie Diet, which consists of “eating low-calorie cookies and one healthy meal a day.”

    Really, producers of The View?  That is what you consider groundbreaking and news worthy?  A diet plan that first made the rounds approximately five years ago?

    Despite the frothy advertising, there is no secret here.  This nonsense is nothing else than extreme caloric restriction that fools people into thinking they are being indulgent because they get to munch on a a few cookies a day.

    I’m surprised no one has come up with the “Ben & Jerry’s Diet” yet.  You know — eat nothing but a tablespoon of Ben & Jerry’s every three hours and a sensible dinner, and you’ll be at your goal weight in no time!

    Up next — Melissa Bowman Li’s Physio Cleanse, which Whoopi Goldberg is currently on and raving about.

    I was very surprised to learn Ms. Bowman Li is a Registered Dietitian, because the program relies on distracting gimmicks.

    For example — you start off with a 28 day “cleanse”, in which alcohol, caffeine, sugar, gluten, and dairy are off-limits.

    News flash: it is completely possible to avoid that entire list and still overeat, just like it is possible to eat all those items and lose weight.

    Even more annoyingly, Bowman Li claims this particular diet helps the body “eliminate toxins through the lungs, skin, kidneys, and bowels.”

    Perhaps Ms. Bowman Li has forgotten basic human physiology — the human body does that on its own.  A cup of coffee and a bowl of Greek yogurt are not toxin-releasing roadblocks.

    Once again, the real “secret” here is a meal plan high in whole foods and fiber and low in processed foods.  The removal of caffeine and dairy is irrelevant.

    The Perfect 10 Diet and the 7-Day Energy Surge were also featured, but are so vague and general in their descriptions that they aren’t even worth discussing.  Both employ your usual terminology of “key hormones”, “feel at your peak” and promises of “jumpstarting weight-loss” and “reducing stress” “in minutes.”

    By the way, why do so many diet books contain numbers in their titles?  Is it solely to make you feel like a complete loser if it takes you nine days to get that “energy surge” (oh, how awful!)?

    The absolute worst of this lot, however, is Jorge Cruise’s Belly Fat Diet, which is nothing more than Atkins revisited (again!).

    According to Cruise, his plan allows you to “lose troublesome belly fat without counting calories or going to the gym.”  A couch potato’s dream — and such a hokey late-night infomercial pitch!

    Like Atkins, Gary Taubes, and countless others, Cruise claims “belly fat” is all about “keeping insulin low by limiting carbohydrates and sugar.”

    This, says Cruise, is much more effective than simply eating less and exercising more.  In fact, Cruise considers calories absolutely irrelevant.

    Despite claims that you will not eat less on this plan, this “groundbreaking” diet is also about limiting your calories.

    For example, one popular tactic provided by Cruise is to ditch the hamburger bun and wrap your burger in a lettuce leaf.

    Yes, certainly a lower-carb option, but also one that decreases calorie content by anywhere from 200 to 300 calories!

    Oh, but, no, Cruise says “carbohydrate [content is] the only number you need to know”.

    Of course, there are plenty of head-scratching tips.  While Cruise shuns dairy products and whole fruits because of their naturally-occurring sugars, he finds it perfectly okay for people on his plan to eat French fries and dip them in ketchup.  Huh?

    There’s also a pulled-out-of-who-knows-where concept of “carb servings”.  According to Cruise, a “carb serving” consists of anywhere from 5 to 20 grams of carbohydrates.  THAT is how you determine whether a meal is “belly good” or “belly bad” — by the number of “carb servings”.

    As a result of all this carbphobia, Cruise would much rather you drink a Diet Snapple (artificially-colored water spiked with artificial sweeteners) than an iced low-fat latte.

    It is a true shame that The View decided to devote camera time to these baseless diets that rely on gimmicks and hype, rather than factual information that can actually — gasp — help people lead healthier lives!

    Many thanks to New York City Registered Dietitian Elisa Zied for making me aware of this TV segment via Twitter.


    In The News: More To Low-Carb Diets Than Meets Your Average Blood Test

    labamba_steak_rib_eyeLondon’s The Independent reports that a brand new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that “low-carbohydrate diets may damage arteries and increase the risk of heart attacks.”

    Before any low-carb fiends (many of whom, for whatever reason, cling to every word on this blog) jump up and talk about “the saturated fat myth” and other “nutritional conspiracies”, let me remind you that this study took a slightly different approach.

    Of the three groups of mice studied (one group on a standard mouse diet, another on a standard US diet, and another on a typical low-carb diet), the low-carbers gained the least weight.

    However, “they suffered more atherosclerosis – the build-up of deposits that narrow arteries.”

    The most interesting tidbit is that “levels of cholesterol, triglyceride blood fats and inflammation markers linked to atherosclerosis could not account for the findings, but the production of endothelial progenitor cells [involved in the growth and repair of blood vessels] in mice on the low-carb diet was found to have dropped by 40 per cent after two weeks.”

    There is nothing inherently unhealthy about carbohydrates, fats, or protein.  The key is to always choose the healthiest varieties of each of those macronutrients.


    In The News: Oh, Look… Calories!

    CNN is reporting the findings of a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine comparing the efficacy of four diets — high-carb, low-carb, high-fat, and high-protein.

    Although not based on popular diets (the high-protein diet, for instance, does not provide the same distribution of nutrients as Atkins), the four eating plans had their particular distinctions (i.e: one offered 35 percent of calories from protein, while another increased the amount to 65 percent of calories from protein).

    The conclusion? “All produced weight loss and improvements in lipids [as well as] reduction in insulin. The key really is that it’s calories, not the content of fat or carbohydrates — just calories,” summarizes study co-author Dr. Frank Sacks of the Harvard School of Public Health.

    Or, as the study itself beautifully encapsulates it: “reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.”

    No matter which of the four diets the 811 overweight participants were on, they all “had a[n average] 750-calorie reduction per day.”

    Not surprisingly, they all lost weight.

    Note that even the higher-in-fat diets followed American Heart Association guidelines (mainly sufficient fiber intakes and limited saturated and trans fat intake).

    Let this be even further proof to the “saturated fat is the healthiest fat; everyone is lying to you!” camp that diets rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat do indeed lead to improved lipid profiles and weight loss.

    Adding to the uniqueness of this study is that it is one of the few that tracked participants on these diets for two entire years.

    How will “calories don’t matter, it’s all about limiting carbohydrates”enthusiasts explain yet another study showing weight loss can be accomplished while eating a substantial amount of carbohydrates?


    Leaving Out Vital Information

    Vending and food service company Next Generation has introduced Vitalities, a sticker-based initiative which “provides customers the ability to make selection based on healthy snack and beverage alternatives, while still having the flexibility to select name brand product options.”

    In essence, products that meet certain health criteria — created with the help of a Registered Dietitian — get a sticker next to their item code.

    On the food side, the following categories are offered: lower in fat, lower in sugar, lower in carbs, and “higher energy.”

    Why are they leaving out the most important concept– CALORIE information?

    Consider the following. To qualify as “low in sugar”, a product must meet one of the following criteria:

    * Sugar Free
    * No Sugar Added
    * Contains less than 4 grams of sugar

    These divisions are very helpful for snack companies because they don’t evaluate their products from a whole nutrition profile.

    Per the above mentioned standards, something like Sugar-Free Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would receive a “low in sugar” sticker (and therefore seem like a healthy choice) despite offering 6 grams of saturated fat (30% of a day’s worth) in one 180-calorie serving.

    Similarly, a bag of Skittles can receive a healthy-sounding “low-fat sticker”, all while offering 250 calories and 12 teaspoons of sugar!

    I am also perplexed by the “lower in carbs” sticker. Unless someone has diabetes, there is no reason to believe that low carb figures by default indicate a healthier choice.

    The beverage stickers are slightly better, as they are divided into these four categories: lower in fat, lower in calories (yay!), lower in caffeine, and higher in nutrients.

    My concern here is the “lower in fat” label, which makes no mention of calories in its criteria:

    * Less than 2.5 grams of fat per 8 ounce portion
    * Skim and 1% milk
    * Flavored waters
    * Juices
    * Energy drinks

    Notice that soda can not qualify for this sticker. Fine and dandy, but sweetened flavored waters (often containing just as much sugar and as many calories as soda) can.

    This initiative is a start, but I would much prefer vending machines post calorie information on items.

    After all, unless people have those figures memorized, they are unable to see them until they have already made their purchase.


    You Ask, I Answer: Hydrogenated Starch

    I recently saw an ingredient called “hydrogenated starch.”

    What is it?

    Is avoidance prudent?

    — Corey Clark
    (Location withheld)

    Let me guess — you saw hydrogenated starch as an ingredient in a sugar-free product?

    Althrough hydrogenation always conjures up thoughts of unhealthy fats, that same process is rather harmless when applied to starch.

    Hydrogenating starch is one way of producing a calorically low sweetener (approximately two to three calories per gram, compared to sugar’s four.)

    It’s technically a type of sugar alcohol (just like sorbitol, maltitol, and other ingredients ending in ‘ol’ that you can spot on most low-carb candy bars.)

    First, starch — usually corn or wheat — is partially hydrolyzed (meaning molecular bonds are broken by reacting them with water.)

    The resulting molecules are then hydrogenated (saturated with hydrogen).

    End result? Sweetness, bulk, long shelf life, and the ability to develop products labeled “diabetic friendly” or “low carb.”

    Hydrogenated starch in and of itself does not pose any health risks.


    In The News: Taking Back "the C Word"

    Let’s do this Vagina Monologues style. Ready?

    Say it with me:

    c-c-ca-ca-ca-calo…. calor-calor-caloriesssss!

    How wonderfully liberating!

    After a long period of foolishness where mainstream weight loss rhetoric focused on fat grams, carbohydrate grams, or what time of day you stopped eating, The New York Times — in an article beautifully titled “Calories Do Count” — reports that “good old calorie counting is coming back into fashion.”

    That’s right — after being dismissed by the likes of Gary Taubes and his ilk, calories are the new black!

    Consumers are simply beginning to re-embrace the idea that successful, long-lasting weight loss comes with familiarizing themselves with calorie contents of foods, as opposed to eating unlimited amounts of foods that are simpy very low in carbohydrates or fats.

    It is worth pointing out that this heightened caloric awareness is a direct result of labeling laws that take the guesswork out of ordering at many restaurant and takeout chains.

    Meanwhile, restaurants — profits firmly in mind — are “jumping on the latest bandwagon.”

    “Dunkin’ Donuts recently added a low-calorie egg white breakfast sandwich, Così is using low-fat mayonnaise and McDonald’s large French fries have dropped to 500 calories this year from 570 last year.”

    Additionally, “Quiznos is testing smaller sizes and less-caloric sandwich fillings in its New York stores. At Le Pain Quotidien, which has 17 outlets in New York… the popular quiche Lorraine was trimmed to 6 ounces from 11, with extra salad filling out the plate.”

    Food manufacturers, meanwhile, will soon be catering to the “calorie trend” by printing calorie values on the front of their packaging.

    Don’t be surprised if, a few years down the road, mandatory chain restaurant calorie labeling laws go national.


    You Ask, I Answer: Protein/Abs

    One of my friends wants to lose some excess weight from his stomach and have visible abs, so last week he started eating pretty much nothing but lean protein, protein shakes, and steamed vegetables.

    He doesn’t work out or eat any kind of carbs (apart from the steamed vegetables.)

    He says he is already seeing results.

    What do you think?

    — Tom (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    I think your friend is absolutely misguided and approaching the situation with very little thought.

    While it is true that abs “are made in the kitchen” (meaning that your diet must be very carefully managed, since visible abs are the result of low body fat, rather than endless crunches), eating nothing but protein and steamed vegetables is not the answer.

    I don’t know what your friend’s diet was like prior to this, but it is very likely he will lose weight with this particular way of eating, as I am sure his total daily caloric intake has decreased.

    Remember, though, that low-carb diets get rid of water weight in the first few days, which is what I think he refers to when he claims he is “already seeing results.”

    The fact that he does not work out is a significant problem.

    Building muscle tone helps speed up metabolism, thereby facilitating weight loss while maintaining muscle mass (this way, you are losing mostly fat.)

    These kind of ultra low-carb diets are also impossible to sustain for more than a few weeks.

    If your friend wants to have visible abs, he has to keep a few things in mind:

    1) Genetics play a role. Some people have an easier time achieving a six pack, while others can “only” show off a “four-pack” with that same amount of effort.

    2) We all have abs. They are invisible, though, when they are hidden by a layer of fat. If you’d like to proudly display them, you must get your body fat down to approximately 6 or 7 percent. That absolutely requires vigorous physical activity several times a week.

    3) In order to engage in vigorous physical activity several times a week, he certainky needs to take in more carbs than he is now. Otherwise, he will not have sufficient endurance, and his body will start breaking down muscle to provide him with sufficient energy!

    His goal should be to increase physical activity, eat as few processed foods as possible, and maintain a pre-determined caloric range.

    Otherwise, I see him lasting two more weeks and then simply going to the other extreme — declaring this “too difficult” and “not worth it.”


    You Ask, I Answer: Battle of the "Diets"

    Andy, are you going to blog about [the study that concluded that a low-carb diet was more successful at helping subjects achieve weight loss and healthier blood cholesterol profiles than Mediterranean or low-fat ones]?

    — Anonymous
    Via the blog

    I was most certainly planning on commenting on this study, mainly because of some very distracting flaws I noticed.

    Let’s begin with some basic information.

    The study — partially funded by the Robert and Veronica Atkins foundation (potential bias, anyone?) — took place over 2 years, during which 85% of the 322 participants stuck with their respectively assigned diets (low-fat, Mediterranean, and low-carb.)

    Now with some of my “uh, wait a minute” impressions.

    Firstly, when it came to weight loss, low-carb beat out low-fat by 4 pounds (10.3 lbs vs 6.3 lbs), but edged out a Mediterranean Diet (which includes higher carbohydrate consumption) only by 0.3 lbs.

    And although the low-carb diet resulted in the best blood cholesterol profiles, it’s important to note that for this study, researchers “urged [the] dieters [on the low-carb diet] to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein.”

    In other words, although the low-carbers had the highest saturated fat intake out of the three groups, the majority of their fats came from plant sources.

    There isn’t anything groundbreaking here. Anyone keeping up with nutrition research knows that mono and polyunsaturated fats are recommended for heart health.

    Hence, this study calls into question the belief so many low-carb fanatics like Gary Taubes fervently hold on to — that saturated fat is the best for blood cholesterol levels.

    The study specifically mentions that the blood cholesterol levels of the low-carbers is due largely to the consumption of monounsaturated fats.

    Besides, I always wondered why low-carb enthusiasts even bother bragging about improved cholesterol profiles on their diets when, two seconds later, they turn around and say that the cholesterol-heart disease link is a lie and the result of “bad science.” Which is it?

    The study wasn’t entirely a “low carb diets RULE!” piece, either.

    For instance, the Mediterranean Diet — which was highest in fiber — proved to be the most effective at managing blood glucose levels.

    Yet again, this goes against traditional low-carb beliefs (and, once again, those Gary Taubes loves to pontificate) that the research on fiber is “inconclusive at best” and that there is no need to have it in the diet.

    Before anyone jumps down my throat about whether or not I read Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes himself said at his New York University talk in March of this year that he didn’t think high-fiber grains were any healthier than refined ones.

    Speaking of fiber, I noticed that the low-fat group was only asked to consume “low-fat grains.”

    This struck me as odd, mainly because it is hard to find grains high in fat — they are all low-fat.

    Additionally, it’s hard to overlook some bias.

    The study does not urge low-fat dieters to consume the healthiest grains (whole grains), yet specifically requests that low-carb dieters eat the healthiest fats.

    I also found it strange that for the majority of this study the low-carb group was consuming 120 grams of carbs a day. This is definitely higher than the much lower levels recommended by most low-carb advocates.

    Atkins, for instance, usually calls for no more than 100 grams of carbohydrates per day during the maintenance phase.

    Finally, take a look at the numbers and you see that although the low-carb group was not calorie-restricted, their caloric intake was lower compared to their pre-study diet.

    So, as always, we are talking about weight loss as a result of reduced caloric intake.


    In The News: A Case for Calories

    Oh, what a great morning!

    The weather is absolutely beautiful in New York City and I wake up to a story from Time Magazine in which Harvard School of Public Health Chair Walter Willett (pictured at left) reminds us what matters most when it comes to weight gain and weight loss — calories!

    I have never been a fan of the scapegoating targeted at specific nutrients.

    I do not think eating fat causes people to become fat, nor do I think carbohydrates are sent up on an express elevator from hell.

    This is why, if you are a reader of Small Bites, you know that the recipes I share are not “low fat” or “low carb.”

    “From many kinds of studies conducted over years, we are quite confident now that a calorie from fat will cause a similar amount of weight gain as a calorie from carbohydrate,” Willett affirms.

    And, no, he isn’t pulling this theory out of thin air; there are plenty of studies showing that diet composition isn’t as important as caloric intake in determining weight.

    “The best way to get to the bottom line is to look at long-term studies where we randomize people to a high-fat/low-carb diet or to a low-fat/high-carb diet and follow them for at least a year or more.

    That kind of study takes into account the possibility that one kind of diet provides more satiety; so, over the long run you would see more weight loss on that diet.

    But those studies — half a dozen or more such studies have been done — show quite clearly that the percentage of calories from fat has very little effect on long-term weight loss.”

    What Dr. Willett does stress is that the quality of fats and carbohydrates are important (i.e.: whole grains, monounsaturated fats, and Omega-3 fatty acids are nutritionally superior to refined grains, saturated fats, and trans fats).

    Let’s cap this off with another great quote: “We’ve now looked at over 250,000 men and women for up to 30 years, and we [also] haven’t seen that the percentage of calories from fat or from carbohydrates in your diet makes any difference in relation to heart attacks, various cancers, or stroke.”

    Let the Gary Taubes fanclub hatemail begin…


    In The News: A Case for Calories

    Oh, what a great morning!

    The weather is absolutely beautiful in New York City and I wake up to a story from Time Magazine in which Harvard School of Public Health Chair Walter Willett (pictured at left) reminds us what matters most when it comes to weight gain and weight loss — calories!

    I have never been a fan of the scapegoating targeted at specific nutrients.

    I do not think eating fat causes people to become fat, nor do I think carbohydrates are sent up on an express elevator from hell.

    This is why, if you are a reader of Small Bites, you know that the recipes I share are not “low fat” or “low carb.”

    “From many kinds of studies conducted over years, we are quite confident now that a calorie from fat will cause a similar amount of weight gain as a calorie from carbohydrate,” Willett affirms.

    And, no, he isn’t pulling this theory out of thin air; there are plenty of studies showing that diet composition isn’t as important as caloric intake in determining weight.

    “The best way to get to the bottom line is to look at long-term studies where we randomize people to a high-fat/low-carb diet or to a low-fat/high-carb diet and follow them for at least a year or more.

    That kind of study takes into account the possibility that one kind of diet provides more satiety; so, over the long run you would see more weight loss on that diet.

    But those studies — half a dozen or more such studies have been done — show quite clearly that the percentage of calories from fat has very little effect on long-term weight loss.”

    What Dr. Willett does stress is that the quality of fats and carbohydrates are important (i.e.: whole grains, monounsaturated fats, and Omega-3 fatty acids are nutritionally superior to refined grains, saturated fats, and trans fats).

    Let’s cap this off with another great quote: “We’ve now looked at over 250,000 men and women for up to 30 years, and we [also] haven’t seen that the percentage of calories from fat or from carbohydrates in your diet makes any difference in relation to heart attacks, various cancers, or stroke.”

    Let the Gary Taubes fanclub hatemail begin…


    Speaking With…: Milton Stokes

    Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, CDN is the owner of One Source Nutrition, offering a variety of private counseling and media consulting services.

    He is also an American Dietetic Association National Media Spokesperson who has been featured in a plethora of publications, including Self, Cooking Light, Men’s Health, Fitness, and the New York Daily News.

    I first met Mr. Stokes in January of 2007 when he served as an adjunct professor for New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health.

    He is an intelligent, sharp, and charismatic entrepreneur who is a wonderful asset to the field of nutrition and dietetics and communicates his nutrition knowledge in a most effective manner.

    On with the interview:

    What shifts, if any, have you noticed with your clients over the past decade? Is nutrition education really more widespread?

    Most people come to my office well-educated on nutrition and health.

    They develop admirable knowledge from websites, like anything associated with NIH.gov, and certain consumer publications, like Eating Well and Cooking Light. Clients know all about MyPyramid and reading food labels. So it’s not a knowledge gap.

    Instead, the problem is that gray area of disconnect, that missing spark to motivate clients to implement their knowledge.

    A lot of what we do in the practice is boost a client’s self-efficacy. We simply point out “You say you want to achieve health, but you continue with this behavior.”

    From there we proceed by encouraging them to start with a specific change today or this week. Showing clients we believe they can do it helps enhance their sense of self belief, which is what self efficacy is all about.

    What do you perceive as two of the most important behavioral modification changes people who are looking to lose weight can do?

    Step one is getting proof of what a client’s eating and drinking. Proof in the form of a simple food journal. It’s amazing what a difference seeing food consumption on paper really makes. Subtle, but significant, patterns start to emerge.

    Usually those patterns are enough to guide future work with the client. We work with eating disorders mostly, and as I said earlier, our patients are extremely educated in nutrition. But they do things, like sabotage themselves with unhealthy environments at home.

    Premium ice cream and other binge foods don’t crawl into the kitchen without help. With exercise, owning a treadmill is a good start, but you can’t use it as a wardrobe station in the basement. Take those clothes off of it–or whatever items reside there–and have it ready.

    This leads me to the next tip: plan. If you don’t plan to exercise, you probably won’t. Your sneakers and workout clothes won’t magically appear if you don’t take them out. Furthermore, take them with you in the morning. After work it’s a little easier to get to the gym when you don’t have to come home to change.

    Once home, it’s like pulling teeth to go back out. Home has dishes to be done, laundry to fold, mail to open, and so forth. Those are common distractions that become excuses. So I say bypass those and do the exercise first.

    Planning is applicable to food as well.

    Do most of your clients share a common obstacle/hurdle in reaching their health/nutrition/weight goals?

    We see mostly females in our practice. And the adult women tend to prioritize everything but their health.

    For one of many examples: They shop for food, they cook the food, and they clean up after it’s all over. I say, “Hold up, why can’t you farm out some of this work?” Give the list to your spouse; assign your 10-year-old the task of tearing lettuce for the salads and setting the table; each person clears his own dishes and loads the washer.

    That the woman has to do all this is really old fashioned. And it’s a common barrier to putting health first. If you aren’t healthy, how can you take care of your family?

    Finding ways to earn back 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there will add up. Soon you’re at 20 minutes, which is enough for a brisk walk and some alone time to clear your head.

    Are there two or three popular nutrition myths that most of your clients have interpreted as “truth”?

    Eating breakfast makes me gain weight.

    Stop eating after 6 pm or all the food turns to fat. But digested food isn’t like Cinderella’s carriage: at the stroke of midnight (or whatever time) it doesn’t turn into a pumpkin….or into fat.

    Holy grail of nutrition and feeding is some secret or mystical concoction. What’s the minute, teeny tiniest thing I’m missing to make me whole?

    Exogenous digestive enzymes….we would’ve died out ages ago.

    As a nutrition educator, are there certain inaccurate messages in the mainstream media regarding nutrition that especially frustrate you?

    In general, a lot of marketing jumps the gun on real benefits of specific nutrients or foods. This promotes adult food jags of sorts.

    One day dried plums or blueberries or tomatoes are the rage. The next, it’s some hideously bitter juice designed to extend life by 7 years.

    Then just a pill crammed with all the nutrition of 10 fruits and vegetables. There is no secret or miracle to losing weight or preventing disease. Eating real food does the trick–but that message isn’t sexy or provocative or profitable.

    Having said that, let me also pause to recognize the work of researchers.

    Nutrition is an evolving science, so what we know today may change tomorrow as research is completed. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to pursue new findings.

    I do wonder, though, what would become of human health if we diverted some of those research dollars to subsidize fruits, vegetables and whole grains? We know that eating this way works. Do we need more research, or can we go ahead and pay farmers with research dollars to deliver their products to all neighborhoods?

    People could go to market several times a week, or whenever, and stock up. Farmers could be paid to go door-to-door. Consumers wouldn’t pay a thing.

    What particular direction would you like the nutrition field to embark in over the next 10 – 15 years?

    Stop putting everything under a therapeutic microscope.

    Stop hanging on the latest research finding that says a certain micronutrient might do this or might do that. Nobody eats solo nutritients. Clients tire themselves by getting carried away over headlines without understanding the full scope of the study.

    Studies isolate single nutrients without considering synergy or total nutrient packages in whole food. This relates to what we talked about earlier: the message to eat more fruits and vegetables isn’t glamorous or trendy.

    I am concerned with incessant food scares over pathogens and improper food handling.

    I’d like to see nutrition researchers partnering with sleep experts. Who isn’t sleep deprived? Without enough sleep we know it’s quite difficult to lose weight, and you’re more likely to reward yourself with high-carbohydrate foods as way to feel better.

    Vitamin D [is another subject that we need to look into further].

    I might get in trouble for this, but we may have missed out on the opportunity to consider low-carb diets. First of all, I believe no single diet fits every person. I also believe low-fat isn’t necessarily top dog.

    Researchers, like Jeff Volek, have shown low-carb diets promote fat loss, preserve lean muscle mass, and improve lipid profiles. Am I saying we all need to eat low-carb? No. But we could let the scientific process show us what low-carb eating can do.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    A huge thank you to Milton for participating in this interview.

    If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to visit his new blog for more information and tips.


    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


    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.


    A Stroll Down Diet Lane

    It may seem like a new diet is introduced to the masses every other day, but many of today’s fads are simply reheated versions of oldies.

    I recently came cross a brief timeline of fad diets (dates and names only) compiled by The American Dietetic Association.

    It’s quite interesting to see that many current bestsellers originally popped up decades ago!

    The first documented low-carbohydrate diet, for instance, appeared in Jean Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste back in 1825.

    The no-frills (and no-nonsense) counting of calories was first written about in in Lulu Hunt Peters’ 1917 book, Diet and Health, with Key to the Calories.

    Food combining — the completely baseless concept that mixing carbohydrates and protein in the same meal results in weight gain — originated in the 1930s.

    The ever-popular grapefruit diet? It first appeared in the 1950s.

    Then there are the truly bizarre fad diets.

    My favorites?

    There’s Horace Fletcher’s 1903 low-protein diet plan which urged dieters to chew food 32 times — not 31 or 33! — before swallowing.

    Not surprisingly, he quickly became known as “The Great Masticator”.

    In 1925, the Cigarrette Diet came along, in which tobacco companies happily advertised the appetite-suppressing powers of their “magic” cancer sticks.

    One popular tagline? “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.”  Yeah — especially if your lungs have a death wish!

    1961 brought along Dr. Herman Taller’s — don’t laugh — “Calories Don’t Count Diet”.

    According to the good doctor, all you had to do was eat as much as protein as you wanted (he claimed these calories literally “didn’t count”) and immediately follow that meal with one of his special vegetable oil pills.  Sounds like a combination of Gary Taubes’ carbphobia and Kevin Trudeau’s shamelessness.

    The Sleeping Beauty Diet, which promoted heavily sedating patients so they slept for several days and therefore did not consume any calories, emerged from some sicko’s mind in 1970.

    The ridiculousness is far from over.

    Just last year, Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret claimed two keys to weight loss were ridding yourself of the belief that food makes you fat and taping a piece of paper with your ideal weight on it over your scale’s display screen, in order to allow “the universe” to create a new reality for you.


    You "Ask", I Answer: Jared’s Subway Diet

    It’s important to note that when Jared went on his Subway diet, his overall consumption of carbohydrates dropped way down, despite the fact that the relative amount may have been 60% of total calories.

    Jared’s weight loss is consistent with [Gary] Taubes’ [“obesity is caused by high carbohydrate intake”] views.

    — Anonymous
    (Via the blog)

    I do not intend for Small Bites to turn into a “low carb vs. calorie cutting” blog (that would have been “hot” five years ago).

    Alas, many low-carb advocates and Gary Taubes worshippers have found this blog and love to leave, what else, anonymous comments.

    I initially thought it made for great discussion, but the postings — and my subsequent answers — are starting to rehash previous Small Bites content.

    The last thing I want to do is repeat myself, especially when archives of all previous posts are available.

    So, unless there is a major development or news story relating to low-carbohydrate diets, this will be my last post actively refuting low-carb claims.

    Although readers are more than welcome to leave comments and debate amongst themselves, consider this a closing statement of sorts from my end.

    Jared’s carbohydrate consumption decreased, but, more importantly, so did his calories.

    Had he dropped his carbs to roughly 130 grams a day (as he did when he went on the Subway diet) but still consumed 10,000 calories, he would not have lost weight.

    Based on the comments I have received, it seems like the Taubes supporters aren’t too sure of their own views.

    On the one hand, you say Jared would have lose weight while eating 130 grams of carbs since these 130 grams were lower than what he normally consumed.

    However, a large number of Taubes fans have harshly criticized research studies showing low-carb dieting isn’t effective because the carb amount used in these studies (45 or so grams) is “too high.”

    According to these people, true low carb diets consist of no more than 30 grams of carbs a day (anything else, they say, is “not low carb” and therefore does not have much of an impact on weight loss).

    So, which is it?

    Like I have said before, this is a case of flawed logic.

    It’s equivalent to somebody saying, “It rains because the sky turns gray.”

    No, it rains when air rises, expands, and cools (as air cools, it is unable to hold much water; this water often condenses and becomes rain).

    Gray clouds themselves do not cause rain.

    In that analogy, cutting calories is the equivalent to air rising, expanding, and cooling (the real cause of something), while cutting carbohydrates is parallel to gray clouds (a consequence that people erroneously attribute as a cause).

    Jared’s case is very simple: calories decreased, and, consequently, so did his weight.

    You can attempt to make the “his carbs also decreased” argument, but don’t you see that an advocate of a low fat or even a low protein diet could say the same thing? After all, almost every single nutrient decreased.

    Someone could even attempt to make the argument that Jared lost weight “because he didn’t eat fruits” or “only ate at restaurants starting with the letter S”.

    So, no, Jared’s case (a hundred grams of carbohydrates a day for someone with a propensity to be obese resulting in weight loss) is not consistent with Taubes’ views.

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