Monday, December 9, 2019

Retrospective #296: Another Nail in the Coffin of the Dietary Guidelines

Zoe Harcombe, popular UK author and obesity researcher, got her first piece in the British Medical Journal’s Open Heart in February 2015. The BMJ is one of the world’s most discriminating arbiters of medical science. Open Heart is an “open access, peer reviewed, online-only journal dedicated to publishing research in all areas of cardiovascular medicine.” This piece fit the requirements, and the conclusion was earthshaking. The title tells it all: “EVIDENCE FROM RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIALS DID NOT SUPPORT THE INTRODUCTION OF DIETARY FAT GUIDELINES IN 1977 AND 1983: A SYSTEMIC REVIEW AND META-ANALYSIS.
Harcombe conceived of this article and collaborated with several other credentialed authors in the data extraction, analysis and writing of the manuscript. All the authors were involved in the critical evaluation of content and reported no competing interests. The article was externally peer reviewed, has 32 linked references and has now been cited (December 2019) 169 times by other science articles.
The full-text article came to my attention from a 2015 piece in Diabetes in Control: “GOVERNMENT DIETARY FAT GUIDELINES DID NOT HAVE SUFFICIENT SUPPORTING EVIDENCE.” The subtitle restates the CONCLUSION of the Abstract of the paper: “DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS INTRODUCED FOR 220 MILLION U.S. [1N 1977] AND 56 MILLION UK CITIZENS BY 1983 DID NOT HAVE SUFFICIENT SUPPORTING EVIDENCE FROM RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIALS.” To be clear, the randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluated were all published BEFORE 1983.
For the uninitiated, 1977 was the year where in the U.S a Senate Select Committee, called the McGovern Commission, held a few hearings and subsequently published the “Dietary Goals for the United States.” That document, prepared by Senate staffers, was the precursor to the first “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” (1980), which was revised and republished every five years thereafter. The Brits followed suit with their own dietary standards in 1983. These events have been chronicled in many places including briefly in The Nutrition Debate #4, “Big Government, Big Pharma and Poor Little Dr. Atkins” (12/31/2010).
Among many other things, the dietary recommendations introduced in the U.S in 1977 and in the UK in 1983 recommended that we limit dietary cholesterol, present only in animal foods, to 300mg a day. A single, large, hen’s egg yolk contains 187mg! As reported in Retrospective #295, that 300mg limitation was finally lifted in the 2015 iteration of the DGA. Did you know that? So was the recommendation that we limit total fat. That change too has been little reported by the mainstream media. Who, after all, in Agribusiness and Big Pharma would profit from these changes? No one. Only we, the consumer of food, by improved health and wellbeing.
The 1980 DGA recommended that we reduce overall fat consumption to 30% of total calories and reduce saturated fat consumption to 10%. The protein recommendation was set at a meager 10% and the carbohydrates (sugars and refined carbs from manufactured foods in boxes and bags) set at a whopping 60% of calories (300g or 1,200kcal).
AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS WHY WE, AS A POPULATION, STARTING AROUND 1980, STARTED TO GET FATTER. That’s why diabesity skyrocketed and heart disease and many other “diseases of civilization” (of malnutrition really, from lack of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K from animal-based foods) have plagued our nations.
In recent years, we have come to realize that the American and British public have been participants in the largest uncontrolled experiment in history. This experiment hasn’t turned out well. We are still suffering the consequences.
But now, if seems, the Titanic is slowly changing course. THE LIMITATION ON THE TOTAL PERCENTAGE OF FAT IN THE DIET HAS BEEN OMITTED (#294), AND NOW, HOPEFULLY (#295), DIETARY CHOLESTEROL WILL “NO LONGER BE CONSIDERED A NUTRIENT OF CONCERN FOR OVERCONSUMPTION.” Are you thinking ruefully about all the shrimp, egg yolks, butter, full-fat dairy, (milk, cream, cheese, yogurt, etc.) you have needlessly given up over the years?
Harcombe’s BMJ piece was but one of several initiatives in the non-conflicted medical and nutrition community to appear in the scientific press. Richard Feinman’s et al., “12 points of evidence,” a very well documented piece in Nutrition (2014) was another that has been widely disseminated in the U. S. (now cited in 505 science journal articles).
And now, in 2019, Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, a 2014 best seller which itself was a riff on Gary Taubes’s seminal 2002 NYT Sunday Magazine piece, “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Surprise,” has ramped up her efforts at The Nutrition Coalition to influence the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans now in preparation. I’ve got my fingers crossed, but my hopes…well, are not too high.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Retrospective #295: Dietary cholesterol: “no longer considered a nutrient of concern…”

In mid-December 2014 my wife heard a story on NBC’s ‘Today Show’ about dietary cholesterol.” Later that day we both heard a similar story on PBS’s “All Things Considered.”  So, to know more, I did a Google News search on “dietary cholesterol” (the cholesterol in food, like eggs and shrimp). The first story that came up was from Fox News. It wasn’t very good. The message was distorted with “contributions” from the AP and Reuters.
Still, the essence was that the subcommittee of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee responsible for making recommendations announced to the full DGAC committee at its final meeting that it is their recommendation that DIETARY CHOLESTEROL NO LONGER BE ‘CONSIDERED A NUTRIENT OF CONCERN FOR OVERCONSUMPTION.’  
The final report, “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” was scheduled to be published in 2015. “While those agencies could ignore the committee’s recommendations, major deviations are not common,” The Washington Post said.
“Five years ago, I don’t think the Dietary Guidelines diverged from the committee’s report,” Naomi K. Fukagawa, the 2010 vice chair, told The Washington Post. Fukagawa says she supports the change on cholesterol. “Walter Willett, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, also called the turnaround a ‘reasonable move,’” The Post reported. “There’s been a shift of thinking,” he said. Finally, at last, I say.
The Titanic really IS changing course. (See: The Nutrition Debate #12: “Turning the Titanic,” also #162, #189, #202, and #292). And this is MAJOR, except that, SATURATED FAT is being left behind; it is still “the bad guy,” according to the DGA. But it’s good news for people who long for shrimp. I actually know one, a medical doctor, who “passed” on shrimp being passed around as h’ordeuvres at a cocktail party, and others who eat egg whites (no yolk) for breakfast. (See: The Nutrition Debate #176, “Eggs, Cholesterol and Choline,” #211, “Eggs and Satiety,” and #225, #228 and #265.
The danger, of course, with the Titanic changing course, is in which way it is turning w/r/t cholesterol.  Think eroded endothelial layers, advanced glycation end products (AGEs), and clogged arteries from rancid and oxidized LDLs in overused and overheated “vegetable” oils. (#21, “The Dangers of Polyunsaturated Fats,” also #20, #22, #23, and #24.)
Those are the health outcomes that can be expected from the 2013 AHA/ACC recommendation that 1) while the target for total dietary fat consumption be omitted to allow fats in the diet to increase to replace the formerly much too high (60%) Dietary Guidelines recommendation for carbohydrates, and 2) that saturated fat be further reduced from the previous 7% - 10% of total calories to 5% - 6%. With this 1-2 punch the result will be that we consume more Mono and Polyunsaturated fats. And while monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado) are good, PUFAs are very BAD.
That’s exactly where the Titanic is being steered by Robert Eckel, who was co-chair of the 2013 ACC/AHA guidelines committee and a past president of the American Heart Association. While he conceded that there is “insufficient evidence” to make a recommendation to support dietary restrictions of cholesterol, he said “a three-to four-egg omelet isn’t something I’d ever recommend to a patient at risk for cardiovascular disease.” Some myths die hard. 
The WaPo story recalls the origins of the cholesterol myth. In 1913 a Russian scientist at the Czar’s Medical Institute in St. Petersburg fed cholesterol to rabbits for four to eight weeks and saw that the cholesterol harmed them. Then in the 1960s an American graduate student, Lawrence Rudel, noted that when the Russian fed cholesterol to white rats, it had no effect. Later, Ancel Keys acknowledged the difference between obligate herbivores (rabbits) and mammals. Even Keys, father of the diet/heart hypothesis (saturated fat + cholesterol → heart disease), later said:
“There’s no connection whatsoever between the cholesterol in food and cholesterol in the blood. And we’ve known that all along. Cholesterol in the diet doesn’t matter at all unless you happen to be a chicken or a rabbit.”
And, Archives of Internal Medicine (2009), “Updated Findings of the Framingham Study,” Dr. William Castelli, Director:
“In Framingham, Massachusetts, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower people’s serum cholesterol. . . we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories weighed the least and were the most physically active.” 

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Retrospective #294: Saturated Fat, Heart Disease and the DGA

The Editorial Director of at Medscape Cardiology took on a challenging assignment a while ago. I decided to take on the assignment too, but steer my review using an alternate “selection bias” (mine). The Medscape review was designed to educate doctors. It gets a lot of the basics about saturated fats right and introduces the busy physician to newer concepts from “evidence-based” science. That’s a catch phrase that’s all the rage these days.
The setup: “Dietary guidelines for the prevention or treatment of coronary artery disease (CAD) have emphasized a reduction in the consumption of saturated fat since the 1960s.” A footnote in the review links to a 1961 piece in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association (AHA). January 1961 was when Ancel Keys, father of the diet/heart hypothesis, appeared on the cover of Time magazine and joined the board of the AHA. The setup continues: “Dietary saturated fat increases blood levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and subsequent risk of CAD, or so goes the conventional wisdom.” The “doubting Thomas” tone is appropriate, and was encouraging to me.
Tension rises: “The disparate findings have led to calls to stop demonizing saturated fat and equally vocal cries to proceed with caution before we let lard back into the menu.” The plot starts to thicken, introducing the “bad” guys.
Meanwhile, “the 2013 American College of Cardiology (ACC)/American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines on lifestyle management to reduce CVD risk omitted a target for TOTAL dietary fat but did recommend a goal of 5%-6% of calories from saturated fat.” Three points: 1) The lead author of the ACA/AHA guidelines is Robert Eckel, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado. He is one of the protagonists in this story but is not introduced by name into the narrative until more than half way through; 2) Note the significant OMISSION of a target for TOTAL dietary fat. It was previously less than 30% of total calories; and 3) Note the limitation of SFAs to 5%-6%. It was previously 7%-10%.
The other protagonist in this set piece is Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. He gets most of the science right (IMHO) – and I cannot emphasize that enough – but just cannot walk through the open door provided by the ACA/AHA’s omission of a target for total dietary fat. Instead, he is quoted as saying, “polyunsaturated fats are beneficial…” Perhaps this comment, taken out of context, reflects the author’s personal bias. By doing so, she becomes a third protagonist, representing the PUFA contingent.
Mozaffarian does disagree with Eckel’s 5%-6% limit on SFAs. “To derive a conclusion that saturated fat should be 5% of calories [as Eckel does] is not evidence-based,” he says. Other Mozaffarian quotes: “The School Lunch Program allows chocolate skim milk and banned whole milk. That’s absurd.” Another: “…the biggest driver of de-novo lipogenesis [where the liver makes fat from too many highly processed carbs] is the dose and speed that the carb is delivered.”
Mozaffarian begins a good discussion of LDL-C particle size, concentration, HDL-C and triglycerides with his comment that, “The U.S. view on saturated fat is totally based on the effects on LDL-C, and that’s why we have dietary guidelines to lower our saturated fat intake…”
My biggest gripe with the review was the author’s injection of an editorial POV about PUFAs. I think she pushes both Eckel and Mozaffarian, and Marion Nestle whom she quotes a few times, toward the Mediterranean “dietary pattern” touted by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It and the ACA/ADA guidelines were the cornerstone of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and are widely expected to remain so in the 2020 guidelines due out next year.
On a lighter note, my favorite parts of this Medscape piece were in the comment section. The best one, from Dr. J M, was: “Will the ghost of Ancel Keys ever be exorcised?” There’s also a very good one from Dr. Robert Hansen on “replacing SFA with PUFA [will] result in increased oxLDL and increased Lp(a) in humans.” In my opinion, Hansen is totally correct, but alas, his is still just a voice in the wilderness.
So, there’s evidence out there that there are a few doctors who are paying attention to the evolving cholesterol story, saturated fat and CAD, but many more, sadly, who are not. The story is, I think, both complex and complicated.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Retrospective #293: The HEAL Clinics: Diabetes and Medical Weight Loss: RIP

As I said in #292, I am not angry at doctors, in general, “even though they are aware… that the Standard of Care they are required to use to treat [Type 2 diabetics] will trap patients in a lifelong regimen of drug management, obesity and escalating diabetes.”  These clinicians, I said, “are in a tough spot.” There exists, however, on the fringes of mainstream medicine, a growing cadre of doctors who have broken from the pack. These are the “Young Turks.”
The army of sheep – the obese, pre-diabetic and diagnosed Type 2s out there who are being herded into “a lifelong regimen of drug management, obesity and escalating diabetes – are ready to be rescued. But these Young Turks are also in a tough spot. It’s hard to herd sheep whose doctors lead them to follow the current treatment protocol.
In early 2015, when I originally wrote this post, one Young Turk who appeared on the scene was Eric Westman, MD, MHS, Associate Professor of Medicine at Duke University and Director of the Duke Lifestyle Clinic. He is perhaps best known as a co-author of both “The New Atkins for a New You” and “Cholesterol Clarity.” He was also then president of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians. “Bariatric,” for the cognoscenti, simply means having to do with weight.
Dr. Westman’s new venture was as Co-founder, President and Chief Medical Officer of HEAL Clinics, a 2014 start-up. The quote, “will trap patients in a lifelong regimen of drug management, obesity and escalating diabetes”, was lifted from a Private Placement Memorandum for HEAL Clinics. It is part of Dr. Westman’s Manifesto, “Benefits of HEAL Clinic’s Low-Carb Lifestyle – Putting Diabetes in Remission.” The rest of this blog is quoted from the PPM.
“Type 2 diabetes occurs when a person consistently eats too many carbohydrates. All carbohydrates (except for the fiber content and small amounts of vitamins and minerals) convert to blood sugar (glucose). When one consumes excessive carbs, the pancreas produces excessive insulin. It is both the excessive levels of glucose and insulin that produces harmful and chronic inflammation, damaging our cells and organs.”
“Excessive carbohydrate consumption is encouraged by the U. S. Dietary Guidelines and the food industry, which provides tens of thousands of highly processed, sugar and other carb-laden foods to entice us. Studies show that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. It is this combination of our own desire to eat excessive carbs and the food industry’s desire to sell carb-filled products that has created our obese and unhealthy population….”
“Many people not yet diabetic or pre-diabetic are asymptomatically obese, that is, obese but do not have symptoms yet, though they are at high risk of developing pre-diabetes and subsequently diabetes by consuming excessive carbohydrates. A segment of our population is normal in weight but still suffers from Type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes.”
“Since excessive eating of carbohydrates can cause Type 2 diabetes, it can be put into remission by following a Low-Carb lifestyle. The HEAL Low-Carb Protocol is far more preferable to doctors prescribing medications and insulin that are expensive and have potentially dangerous side effects. It is well documented that the standard ‘pills-and-needles’ treatment method rarely puts diabetes into remission. However, it is certain that following HEAL’s Low-Carb Protocol will put almost every person with Type 2 diabetes into remission.”
“A Low-Carb lifestyle is not the medical establishment’s standard of care for Type 2 diabetes even though it is a safe, effective, and well-researched way to put the disease into remission. Perversely, many of the prescribed medications, such as insulin, cause weight gain and increase food cravings, making it difficult for a patient to lose weight. Most of the blood sugar control medications have side effects, many of them serious. The current treatment protocols trap patients in a lifelong regimen of drug management, obesity and escalating diabetes.” [The emphasis added by me.]
HEAL Clinics was a network of premium-priced, medically-supervised, low-carbs clinics across the USA. In mid-2019, after 5 years of operations, Heal Clinics ceased operations, “because the business model was not viable.”
Dr. Westman: “My passion has always been to bring the benefits of a keto lifestyle and the remission of type 2 diabetes and obesity without medications to the masses. To that end, I hope HEAL Clinics has helped educate and spread awareness. But as a business model we’ve concluded that HEAL Clinics cannot be financially sustained.”
HEAL Clinics did help to spread awareness to the general public of the benefits of the low-carb lifestyle – of helping patients with obesity and Type 2 diabetes lose weight and put their diabetes in remission. Thank you, Dr. Westman.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Retrospective #292: Type 2 Diabetes: Doctors in Transition

I am not angry at doctors, in general. Neither am I an apologist for them. Let’s face it: clinicians who treat Type 2 diabetics are in a tough spot. They are like passengers on the Titanic, cruising along in the dark, comforted by thinking that the treatment protocol they were taught in medical school, combined with new drugs streaming onto the market, is the best course currently available. They are also aware, however, that the Standard of Care that they are required to use, “will trap patients in a lifelong regimen of drug management, obesity and escalating diabetes.
The Nutrition Debate #12, “Turning the Titanic,” written almost 9 years ago, was a flop (only 135 pageviews). I guess patients aren’t interested in abstract metaphors and allusion. Type 2 diabetics want concrete solutions. Well, folks, please don’t wait for the medical establishment to substantially change the Standard of Care for Type 2 diabetes. There are too many forces in play now. Suffice it to say the field of “healthy eating” today is dominated by the influence of powerful food processors and manufacturers (“Agribusiness”) and drug manufacturers (“Big Pharma”). They in turn influence public health policy and corrupt drug research. To close the loop, their ads enrich the media.
There were, of course, notable exceptions. In the modern era, Robert Atkins, MD, raised awareness of the benefits of low carbohydrate nutrition. He was attacked by the medical establishment as “a dangerous fraud” (The Nutrition Debate #4). Then, on July 7, 2002, the NYT published Gary Taubes’ earth-shaking Sunday Magazine cover story, “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie.” My internist read it and suggested I try Atkins Induction (20g of carbs a day). That’s how it all started for me.  in 2008, Taubes, by then a 3-time Science in Society award winning journalist, wrote, “Good Calories – Bad Calories” (“The Diet Delusion” in the UK). That book had a huge impact, although less than he’d hoped for on medical practitioners. But one, Kurt Harris, MD, publicly acknowledged the influence that GC-BC had on him.
Dr. Harris was the creator of the “Archevore” protocol, but he has since taken down his websites. Interested readers, however, can find some of Harris’s writing at Psychology Today and in The Nutrition Debate #19. Another early book favorite of mine was Volek and Phinney’s “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living.” Stephen Phinney, MD, has since started VIRTA, a fee-based, on-line practice that guarantees remission of T2DM, or your fee is rescinded.
Then, in 2014, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) issued a Position Statement: “New Nutritional Guidelines.” In it they state, “It is the position of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” eating pattern for individuals with diabetes.” It concluded, “This Position Statement was written at the request of the ADA Executive Committee, which has approved the final document.” My response was #155, “Cowabunga, the ADA makes the turn.” This “patient centered manifesto” will change everything, I thought. One problem: the paper was written by and for the ADA’s Medical Nutrition Therapists, not the ADA’s doctor members. I wonder if they even read it?
Attempting to escape the current treatment protocol and reach a wider audience via individual practice is difficult. Blogs and other media do reach more people but are not very remunerative. Some have tried and failed. However, Andreas Eenfeldt, MD, a Swedish doctor, created “Diet Doctor” (subscription required) and is today the world’s most popular and successful low carb resource. Another with a large and growing following is Jason Fung, MD, a Toronto nephrologist and author, among other books, of “The Obesity Code.” Megan Ramos runs his popular site (clinic and online group) advocating various fasting protocols. The many, many success stories seen there are truly inspiring.
Today there are lot of other emerging practitioners who have seen the light, most of whom have now written books, some reviewed here. Another favorite book, and an easier read than GC-BC, is Nina Teicholz’s “The Big Fat Surprise,” obviously a riff off Taubes. Teicholz is now Executive Director of the Nutrition Coalition, a Washington, DC based organization working hard, without much success I’m afraid, ttying to shape the upcoming 2020 Nutrition Guidelines.
So, what will it take for more doctors to make “the turn”? If the Titanic is going to “stay the course,” would there not be a business opportunity for enterprising doctors and entrepreneurs to chart a different course? A course that will NOT “trap patients in a lifelong regimen of drug management, obesity and escalating diabetes.” I think there is.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Retrospective #291: Salad Dressing Oils: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

While reading the MyFitnessPal article for Retrospective #290, “My Healthy, Homemade Vinaigrette Salad Dressing,” I noted their list of salad dressing oils: “olive oil, grape seed oil, sesame oil, nut oils and avocado oil.” Curiously, they did not mention either soybean oil or canola oil, the vegetable oils now most commonly used in the processed food industry’s bottled salad dressings. So, I have done a lipid analysis of the oils they did include, using USDA’s National Nutrient Database, and added soybean and canola oil. The table is arranged in descending order by polyunsaturated fats, the worst kind for your health. PUFAs are damaged in manufacturing and easily become oxidized and rancid.
Salad dressing oils (100g)
Grapeseed oil
Walnut oil
Soybean oil
Corn oil
Sesame oil
Peanut oil
Canola oil
Avocado oil
Olive oil
* Omega 6s and Omega 3s are PUFAs, and in very small quantities are “essential” fatty acids.
If you are trying to reduce your consumption of Omega 6s to improve your Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio, or balance, you are no doubt aware that you should avoid foods fried in so-called “vegetable” (seed) oils, and store-bought baked goods made with these oils. For the same reason you should avoid virtually all popular brand bottled salad dressings. Take another look in the table at the PUFA content of the most popular seed oils used in commercial salad dressings.
To make your own salad dressing (see #290), which oil then should you use? Well, olive oil is the clear winner. It is both lowest (10.5%) in PUFAs (the “bad” fat) and highest (73%) in monounsaturated fat (the “good” fat). Avocado oil and Macadamia nut oil are also both very good but very expensive. Canola oil isn’t bad, but is contains almost 3 times as many PUFAs as olive oil. Besides, Canola oil is made from a genetically modified (GMO) dominated crop.
Peanut oil and sesame oil are up to four times as high in PUFAs as olive oil and have ugly n-6/n-3 ratios. (Peanuts are not nuts actually; they’re legumes.) And corn oil and soybean oil have five times as many PUFAs and only a third as much Mono as olive oil, so why would anyone (except a processed food manufacturer) ever think of using them?
Popular Brands of Store-Bought Salad Dressing and the oils they use:
Hidden Valley Ranch (The Clorox Company), all varieties*: soybean and/or canola oil
Kraft Salad Dressings (Kraft Food Group), all varieties*: soybean oil
Wish Bone (Unilever), all varieties*: soybean oil
Annie’s Naturals (General Mills), all varieties*: expeller expressed canola and/or sunflower oil
Brianna’s Homestyle (Del Sol Food Co.), Real French Vinaigrette: canola oil
Newman’s Own (Newman’s Own Foundation.), most varieties*: soybean and/or canola oil
Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette: soybean and/or canola oil, then EVOO
Newman’s Own Olive Oil & Vinegar: Olive oil blend (Olive Oil/EVOO), then soybean and/or canola oil
*  except “lite” and “fat free,” where corn syrup or HFCS (sugars) are substituted for seed oils (soybean and/or canola).
So, why doesn’t Kraft, et al., use olive oil in all their industrially processed, bottled salad dressings? Could it be that olives don’t grow in the U.S., and domestically grown soybean, corn and Canola are cheaper that olive oil. Canola oil is made from a cultivar of rapeseed (not grapeseed), and 87% of the canola grown in the U.S. is genetically modified.
I am reminded of the quote from Wendell Berry: “People are fed by the FOOD industry, which pays no attention to HEALTH and are treated by the HEALTH industry, which pays no attention to FOOD.” Think about that.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Retrospective #290: My Healthy, Homemade Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

My Fitness Pal recently had a “cooking tip” titled, “How to Make Healthy, Homemade Salad Dressing.” I liked it for several reasons. 1) It was “relatable” in that it addressed the majority of households who still purchase salad dressing in bottles, 2) It was well written and easy to follow, and 3) I make a “killer” salad dressing myself (recipe later). Naturally, therefore, I also found lots to disagree with, opening the door for me to offer my healthy salad dressing.
The lede brought a smile to my face: “As a kid, I would have been happy to drink Hidden Valley ranch dressing out of a sippy cup, and I didn’t discover that a salad dressing could be homemade until a college summer abroad in Italy.”
I could relate to both points. Packaged salad dressings are tasty. They’ve been engineered in the processed food giants’ laboratories to be very palatable. And they are ready-made and convenient to use, so the argument against using them has to be a good one. With this in mind, I’ll assume that you have an interest in making your own salad dressing because you already know how BAD bottled salad dressings are from multiple HEALTH points of view. Invariably, they are made with very UNHEALTHY polyunsaturated “vegetable” oils, such as soybean, corn and Canola.
My Fitness Pal’s point about Italy is one we can all relate to. We’ll all eaten at a simple Italian Restaurant where flasks of olive oil and vinegar are on the table for you to pour into a small bowl filled with chopped iceberg, cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots. But for my taste, as healthy as that salad dressing is, it doesn’t appeal to me.
A simple vinaigrette, as My Fitness Pal point out, is made up of “oils, acids and other flavors.” The oils they list are olive oil, grape seed oil, sesame oil, nut oils and avocado oil; the acids: vinegars (e.g., sherry, red wine, balsamic, rice) and lemon juice; the “other flavors:” mustard, jam/preserves [!], herbs (e.g., parsley, basil), garlic, shallots, ginger, soy sauce, and tahini. To this, My Fitness Pal adds, and I quote, “+standard seasoning” (see below) and salt and pepper.
They illustrate that with a jar filled with 60% oil, 30% acids and 10% other flavors. Here’s where I pick my first bone. That ratio of oil to acid is just 2 to 1 (2:1). A traditional vinaigrette uses a 3:1 ratio, but I suspect My Fitness Pal proposed to cut the oil portion to reduce the calories from fat (oil). The problem is they then go on suggest that their basic vinaigrette dressing be supplemented with “+ standard seasoning,” which they call your “preferred sweetener.” A basic vinaigrette dressing does not use, as a standard seasoning, a sweetener, and using jam/preserve is a bad idea.
Then, they give the reason their basic vinaigrette dressing requires a “sweetener.” They say, “This is used to balance out the tartness of acids.” Well, if you use a 2:1 ratio of oil to acid, your dressing will be tart. If you use a 3:1, ratio it will not. If you’re worried about the calories from using more olive oil, it’s much better idea to make less dressing and then toss the salad thoroughly with dressing to lightly coat the ingredients. Nobody likes a salad drenched in dressing!
My own French Vinaigrette is made from Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) and tarragon white wine vinegar (3Tbs:1Tbs), 2 or 3 cloves of minced garlic, a heaping teaspoon of Grey Poupon mustard, ½ teaspoon of salt and 50 turns of freshly ground black pepper. I put all the ingredients in a stainless-steel bowl and whisk thoroughly to emulsify them. Both vinegar and the mustard are natural emulsifiers, and the mustard is also a surfactant, so it holds everything emulsified. I usually make it ahead of time to let the flavors fuse. Then, just before serving, I whisk briefly and thoroughly toss the dressing with the salad until everything is evenly coated. This dressing recipe serves a large salad (4 large portions).
The salad we make is made up of washed and dried, then torn romaine lettuce, cut endive, sliced mushrooms, and usually some chopped hazelnuts, slivered almonds or toasted walnut pieces, and cheese. If we’re having company, we may shave some aged pecorino Romano on top, but usually we just add and toss in some grated or shredded Parmesan. I prefer my salad to be served separately on a side plate, but not in a bowl. At home, we mix the salad in a large wooden bowl which we put on the table so everyone can serve themselves.
Guests always comment on how good the dressing is, and it’s a healthy olive oil salad dressing. Why not give it a try?