Monday, July 23, 2012

Whole Grain Destruction

Bread... destroyed
Aaand back to the sciencey posts.  I do like the more philosophical rant posts, but truthfully, I get my jollies off in two ways... reading about scientific research and drinking endless coffee (take note ladies).  Consider both covered.  Big nerd?  Probably.  Bored because the weather is shitty and everyone I know is at work?  Absolutely.

Today’s topic is grains.  More specifically, whole grains.  Many of you may know my stance on grains; I think they’re nutritionally useless, potentially harmful, and they often displace the more nutritious foods we could be eating (ie. fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood).   But today, I offer more convincing evidence against grains in the form of randomized, controlled scientific research.  Yup, the gold standard.

Let’s go over the levels of scientific evidence, just briefly so no one's confused.  For my purposes today, I’ll be talking about two types of study designs: epidemiological research and randomized, controlled trials.  The weaker of the two is epidemiological research.  In this type of study, participants are recruited, asked about their dietary patterns, and followed for a period of time to see who lives and who gets sick and/or dies.  It's observational in nature, and you can't infer cause and effect.  Blah, blah, blah, etc, etc, etc... the best you can do is to find a connection between two variables.  For instance, you might see that people who eat more whole grains tend to have less incidence of cardiovascular disease (1,2).  That doesn’t mean eating whole grains caused a reduction in heart disease; it just means the two happened at the same time.  It could be, instead, that people who consume more whole grains are typically more health conscious.  So in addition to eating whole grains, they exercise more, eat more fruits and vegetables, and choose not to smoke.  Maybe the grains were just along for the ride, while the other variables were what really mattered.  There's no way to know for sure.  

What you can do, though, is use this information to set up a randomized, controlled trial. In this type of study, you can isolate one variable that you think is important, like whole grains, so that you can determine cause and effect.  You need a control group, which would eat refined grains (or no grains), and an experimental group, which would eat whole grains.  Then, you can measure the difference in health outcomes; maybe vitamin/mineral status, blood sugar control, or risk of heart disease.  The key, in this case, is that you have a much clearer idea of causality. 

The point is, randomized, controlled trials trump epidemiological research.  Which is why I'm so glad I found this article by Anthony Colpo, in which he discusses all of this randomized, controlled research on grains.  There's a reason why the only research you hear to support whole grains is observational... because the controlled trials destroy them.  In fact, whole grains may be even worse than the refined variety.  Feast your eyes on this here research...

Friday, July 20, 2012

When Eating Junk is Good For You, or, Keeping Health in Perspective

Junk food is good?  Well sort of.  This is something that's been on my mind for a while now, and it's time I put it to paper.  I wouldn't call it a rant.  It can't be, because I had to write it and rewrite it 3 times before it came out the way you see it now. I suppose you could call it a life lesson.  From a wise old man.  I did recently turn 27 after all.  You see I've done a lot of experimenting with my diet.  I've done low-carb diets, low-fat diets, paleo diets, strict autoimmune protocol paleo diets, plant-based diets... all of which had major restrictions on the food I could eat.  It takes a lot of willpower to stay on a strict diet, and society doesn't help either, always pushing junk food on us.  But the hardest part of staying on a diet?  For me, it was the social consequences.  Being on a strict diet has a tendency to make you a weirdo.  And I hate being the weirdo.

But I'll get back to that weirdo thing.  Let me first say this:  if you're trying to optimize your nutrition, there are some foods that you should never eat.  I truly believe that everyone would benefit from eliminating grains, refined sugars, factory-farmed animal products, refined vegetable oils, and processed foods.  But there's a problem.  These foods are everywhere.  In fact, these are the five foods that our American diet is based on.  You don't even have to take my word for it... here's a list from the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines of the top 25 sources of calories in the United States.  Give it a looksie, it's a pretty sad list.  In fact, all 25 items in the list are based on one of those five foods mentioned above.  ALL of them.

In my opinion, we would all do better on a diet made up of fruits, vegetables, pastured animal products, wild fish, coconut, tubers, and potatoes.  You can call it real food, paleo, primal, ancestral... whatever floats your boat.  But no matter how you slice it, these foods aren't readily available in today's world.  You can't go to 7-11 and get a grass-fed rib eye, complete with a side salad made of organic veggies and an extra-virgin olive oil dressing.  Chances are you can't go anywhere within a reasonable distance and get that.  In addition, most of your friends don't eat this way, so it might be difficult to eat healthy in social situations.  It takes planning and effort if you're going to eat well.  It's the unfortunate truth... our food culture is set up for ease and convenience, not health.

But these societal norms do exist.  They're real, and they matter.  And it's because of these realities, that I make this statement... sometimes you're better off eating junk.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I Have High Cholesterol and I Don't Care

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may know that I love to talk about cholesterol.  You know about my many blog posts on the falsity of the lipid hypothesis, the idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease.  It's been by far the most covered topic on my blog (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).  It's always been a major topic of interest to me, because I feel so strongly that people are being misled when it comes to cholesterol.  It's my view that high cholesterol (recognized by most doctors as higher than 200 mg/dl) is completely overrated as a risk factor for heart disease, and that cholesterol-lowering drugs are unnecessary/useless/potentially harmful for 95% of the population.  Everyone is always so damn worried about their cholesterol, and they don't need to be.  So I'm "that guy".  I'm the guy who scoffs at doctors when they prescribe statin drugs for women with cholesterol levels of 210.  I'm the guy who shakes his head when an otherwise healthy person returns from the doctor's office upset about having high cholesterol.  And I'm DEFINITELY the guy who laughs when you start eating egg white omelets every morning to fix it.  That's just hilarious in so many ways.

What in holy hell...

Now it's one thing to challenge the mainstream ideas on blood lipids; anybody can read books and come up with a take on it.  But it's a totally different animal when you find out that YOU have high cholesterol... very high.