Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #42: “Unsafe Fats” – probably not what you think.

While reading on the net today, an ad for “Beyond Diet” broke the text with a banner that read, “5 Foods to NEVER Eat.” It worked. I clicked to see if they were “dead wrong.” They were not. To my surprise, they had it “right;” that is, they were espousing the same message that I advocate here and at danbrown-thenutritiondebate: Avoid sugar and most non whole-food starches, specifically processed and refined “foods” that are sold in boxes and bags; and avoid gluten grains and vegetable oils (polyunsaturated fats), especially the grain and seed oils that are hydrogenated, oxidized, overheated or used over and over in cooking.

Instead, eat “real food,” whole foods, including animal products (meats and eggs that contain saturated fat), and eat monounsaturated fats like olive oil and avocado. “Beyond Diet” did have the “right” message. That was refreshing and gave me encouragement. The “unsafe” fats are the polyunsaturated fats – the vegetable and seed oils: corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, Canola oil, and others. The “safe” fats are the monounsaturated and saturated fats.

The most common monounsaturated fat is olive oil. Avocado, which I occasionally have for lunch (for a change from my daily can of sardines in olive oil), is high in monounsaturated fats. I eat it with my homemade vinaigrette dressing in the pit cavity and real crumbled and peppered bacon pieces (Hormel) added on top for protein. And no dirty dishes!

Most animal products are combinations of protein and fat with some surprisingly high in monounsaturated fats (e.g. pork at 44%). The saturated fat gives it the flavor we like. I eat full fat meats, poultry and fish. I prefer the fatty cuts: bone-in cuts, mutton and lamb chops, and baby-back ribs rubbed and roasted. I also eat salmon and tuna and dark meat chicken - skin on. Chicken skin is mostly unsaturated fat, by the way, according to the doyenne of lipid biochemistry (dietary fats) Mary Enig, Ph.D. She fought to have trans fats acknowledged as unhealthy beginning in 1978 shortly after reading the 1977 McGovern Commission report. I credit her with the victory in the FDA’s 2003 edict requiring trans fats to be listed separately on the Nutrition Facts Panel on processed foods. It’s working. Blood levels of trans fats declined 58% between 2000 and 2009, according to a CDC research letter published in JAMA and reported in the February 8th New York Times.

You can read Dr. Enig’s story in The Oiling of America. Other articles with co-author Sally Fallon, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation, “The Skinny on Fats” and “The Truth About Saturated Fats,” are also both great reads. In addition, they wrote, “Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.” These resources explain why polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils) are unsafe. You should read at least one.

The Weston A. Price Foundation website itself is a major resource declaiming “industrial foods” and advocating for nutrient dense whole foods. In a video Sally Fallon points out that these foods contain the critical fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2 which are found exclusively in seafood, organ meats and animal fats of grass fed animals. Foods such as butter, egg yolks, whole raw milk, full fat cheese and liver are the basis of good health, she says. WAPF membership, which includes a quarterly newsletter and an annual buyer’s guide, is only $40 ($25 for seniors). I highly recommend it.

The diet-heart or lipid hypothesis is lamentable, indeed a tragedy of world-wide proportions. Beginning in the 1960s, Ancel Keys and the American Heart Association, and later the Government’s public health establishment itself, beginning with the 1977 McGovern Commission and then the 1980 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, have been swept up in this horribly flawed movement. The Standard American Diet (ironically the SAD) is becoming (has become) the Western Diet, with the result that as populations world-wide adopt it, they are falling prey to all the modern Diseases of Civilization.

This movement has been aided and abetted by modern agribusiness and the industrial food manufacturing sector. Look around you. The only field crops are corn and increasingly soybeans, and corn oil and soybean oil are the leading “unsafe fats.” The best oil is an imported foreign oil (olive oil, or were you thinking Saudi crude?). Whatever happened to beef tallow or lard? Butter is one of the very best foods, yet we forsook it for trans-fat laden margarine. Whole eggs are a nearly perfect food, yet, when we have eggs, we use Egg Beaters or All Whites. Why are we doing this to ourselves?

The Beyond Diet program (where we began this column) is selling a product, of course, but they have the right message. I hope they succeed, and I hope you continue reading this column. Next week: “Paula Deen, Lessons Learned.”

© Dan Brown 2/26/12

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #41: “Unsafe Starches” and Other Sugars

At dinner last night with my brother in Florida, he told me that a doctor friend had told him recently that a ‘glass of orange juice’ was one of the worst things he could eat or drink. I agreed. I told this to my wife this morning as she was drinking hers. It’s tough being married to a nutrition nut.

You can buy fresh-squeezed orange juice in Florida by the gallon. It’s as cheap as day-old bread, and it’s really delicious; but it’s all sugar (with a little fiber) and more than half fructose. In liquid form, that’s a big load for the liver. So is a HFCS coke. No difference, really. Most Registered Dieticians would tell you the same thing, about either orange juice or coke.

“Unsafe sugars” are those described as “simple sugars.” They are composed of monosaccharides and disaccharides. The monosaccharides are glucose, fructose and galactose, the most common of which is glucose, sometimes called dextrose. The most common disaccharide is sucrose, usually refined either from cane sugar or beet sugar. Table sugar is sucrose. Sucrose is half glucose and half fructose. Simple sugars are unsafe because they are broken down and digested quickly, especially when liquid. The glucose goes into the bloodstream from the small intestine and circulates to the cells for energy. The fructose, a mild toxin in large amounts, is diverted to the liver to be “detoxified,” protecting us from it. “It bypasses the first regulated steps in glycolysis, which glucose must traverse, and thus becomes a more ready substrate for fatty acid and triglyceride synthesis,” says Phillip A Wood, DVM, Ph.D., in a 2007 article in Diabetes in In plain English, fructose, stockpiled in the liver, easily becomes body fat, and in some cases liver fat (fatty liver disease?).

“Unsafe starches” are complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides and therefore also ‘sugars’ that break down to mostly glucose) in non-whole food form. They have been processed and refined in manufacturing, thereby making them break down more easily. That’s why they are unsafe: They act like simple sugars, digesting quickly and easily, thus spiking blood sugar. The processing and refining also removes vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. That’s why homogenized milk is “supplemented” with Vitamin D. The vitamins that were in the whole raw milk were killed in the pasteurization/ homogenization processing. Some organic milk is now being supplemented with DHA Omega-3 fatty acids (from algae!).

The sugar in milk, by the way, is lactose, a disaccharide compose of equal parts glucose and galactose. Milk has a lot of lactose. Low fat and skim milk have more (in proportion) than whole milk, since the fat has been reduced or eliminated. That’s why I don’t drink low-fat or whole-fat milk, and why I only take full cream in my coffee.

White flour (bleached or unbleached), is refined from wheat, a gluten grain. The milling process removes nutrients so bread flour is almost always “enriched” to replace lost nutrients, e.g. Iron, Niacin, vitamins B1 & B2, and Folic Acid. At random I recently checked the ingredients list on three loaves of bread. Arnold Whole Grains 12 Grain Bread’s first three are Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour (as above), Water and Sugar, plus about 50 other ingredients, wheat gluten being listed fifth. Pepperidge Farm’s Whole Grain Bread’s first four ingredients are Whole Grain Wheat Flour, Water, Sugar and Wheat Gluten. Publix’s store brand, in their “Large White” bread, lists, in order, Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour, Water and High Fructose Corn Syrup (“sugar”), among many other ingredients including soybean oil and wheat gluten.

Did you have any idea that sugar was the third ingredient listed in “healthy” breads, after flour and water? Added sugars are in virtually all processed foods. These breads and virtually all others are unsafe starches. Note also that wheat gluten, a protein, is listed fourth or fifth. Gluten is one of the three Neolithic Agents of Disease (NAD’s) in Dr. Kurt Harris’s Archevore program, along with fructose (in sugar) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s), i.e. vegetable oils.

It makes you long for a good “loaded baked potato,” doesn’t it? My wife tells me a loaded baked potato is a large steaming baked potato that is butterflied and filled with butter, sour cream, broccoli, melted cheese and bits of bacon. Sounds good, doesn’t it? A whole “safe starch” food, a green veggie, and lots of good saturated fats (butter, sour cream, bacon and cheese). Of course, being a Type 2 diabetic, no starchy food is “safe” for me. I have seriously impaired glucose tolerance, but that’s okay. I love my can of King Oscar brand Mediterranean Style Brisling sardines, in olive oil, for lunch.

© Dan Brown 2/19/12

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #40: What are “Safe Starches”?

If you think this is a column about the Glycemic Index, you are wrong. If you think this is about “complex carbohydrates” vs. “simple sugars and refined carbohydrates,” you are wrong. Those are comparisons that you might make if you thought you had a state-of-the-art view of changes in the diet that lower glucose spikes. Spikes are temporary but they become chronic elevations in blood sugar that are harmful, leading to insulin resistance, overweight, neuropathy, Metabolic Syndrome, etc. As insulin resistance gets worse, you develop Type 2 diabetes or worse….such as Alzheimer’s.

Eating complex carbs will have an incremental benefit in such cases, but that is not what is meant by “safe starches” in the debate that is raging in the higher circles of erudition in the nutrition blogosphere. It is a newer idea and a very controversial one that has divided some of the stars in that firmament. The issue as I see it is as follows:

On one side of the debate is Gary Taubes and his many acolytes, both the highly erudite and ordinary hackers like me. Taubes is a highly respected science writer, blogger, and the author of “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?,” the seminal cover story in the NYT Sunday Magazine on July 7, 2002. His 2007 tome, “Good Calories – Bad Calories,” targeted to physicians, is the “bible” for an increasing number of young clinical practitioners and researchers. His more recent book, “Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It” (Deckle Edge, 2010), was written for the general public.

Taubes theorem is that obesity is caused by a metabolic dysfunction in which insulin resistance, developed from eating too many simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, leads to high levels of circulating (serum) insulin, which leads to fat synthesis (lipolysis), and declining function of the pancreas (where the insulin is produced) as its beta cells wear out and die. For such people, a diet based on a low-carb, ketogenic way of eating, is therapeutic. I am in accord with this view.

The “safe starches” debate arose when researchers sought a “perfect health” diet for health maintenance. Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol) have all seen dramatic increases over the last fifty years since we began eating low-fat and, as a consequence, high carb. So researchers examined diets for many indigenous populations in the world who have not developed the Diseases of Civilization (CHD and CVD, stroke, many cancers, and Alzheimer’s). These people eat starches as whole foods, without vegetable oils, as a staple of their diet.

These researchers found that certain carbohydrates, what they are calling “safe starches,” can be eaten in reasonable amounts (10% to 30%, by calorie) by people whose metabolic function has not been compromised by insulin resistance. Compare this to the 60% (300 grams or 1,200 calories a day on 2,000 calories) that is the recommended amount of carbohydrates in the Standard American Diet. Incredible as it sounds, that’s right. If you doubt this, check the Nutrition Facts Panel on any packaged food and do the math yourself. These “safe starches” people (those who can eat them) are most likely to be people who are not already overweight as a consequence of their insulin resistance. To be clear, if you are already overweight, you probably have insulin resistance, and you cannot safely eat these ‘safe starches’ (or any other starches or sugars) without harmful, prolonged high blood sugars, ultimately damaging your general health.

For those who can eat them, what are these “safe starches”? Paul Jaminet, Ph. D., in his Perfect Health Diet,” both book and blog, lists sweet potatoes, potatoes, plantains, taro and others. Kurt Harris, M. D., of the Archevore blog, adds yams and bananas. They both include white rice, a grain. Harris says, “Except for white rice, these are all whole food starch sources with good mineral and micronutrient content that have been eaten in good health for thousands of years in many environments by genetically diverse populations. Many of these plants have spread far from their biomes of origin and serve as staples for populations who have adopted them with success over the past few thousand years.”

“White rice is kind of a special case. It lacks the nutrients of root vegetables and starchy fruits like plantain and banana, but is good in reasonable quantities, as it is a very benign grain that is easy to digest and gluten free.”

So there you are. If you’re healthy and not overweight, you can eat “safe starches” guilt-free and (almost) to your heart’s content. And don’t forget the butter and sour cream on that baked potato. Note that I did not say French fried potato. In two weeks, I’ll explain why there’s a difference. Next week the subject is “Unsafe Starches and Other Sugars.”

© Dan Brown 2/12/12

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #39: Back to the Future

Edgy diet plans are often described as fads, and they usually are. I remember 50 years ago, when I was on the Stillman Diet -- high protein, 8 glasses of water, and amphetamines (!), as I recall -- I lost 65 pounds. After a while, fortunately, I tired of it and switched to ‘the grapefruit diet.’ That was a fad diet, and today there are many such examples that do not deserve consideration or even mention.

Recent diet trends are a lot healthier for people and the environment. They are rooted in “real food.” This began, I think, with the concept of organic foods. This trend evolved to include another dimension besides health: to try to do the “right thing,” take the high road, adopt a moral and ethical way of eating and living. To illustrate, responding on the Oprah program to a question about eliminating meat from the diet, Michael Pollan said, “That’s a personal choice. I could eat meat in …(a) very limited way, from farmers who were growing it in a way (grass fed) that I could feel good about how the animal lived – and that we’re not taking that grain (corn) away from people who need that food.”

Michael Pollan publicized the “grass fed” movement in his best-selling and compelling read, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” It was followed by other derivative books by him and others urging that we eat “real food.” This was a “back to the future” moment in dieting for me. It advocates that we eat only basic, fresh foods, the kinds that are found along the sides of the modern supermarket. The idea is to avoid processed and manufactured food sold in boxes and bags.

Of course, “the devil is in the details.” Does “grass fed” mean that the beeves were not “finished” on grain for a week or two before slaughter? “Organic” eggs can mean that 70% of the food the hens ate was organic. Another detail - hens often eat a “vegetarian” diet. Chickens are omnivores, so I want hens to eat insects, naturally. Vegetarian is not healthy for them (or me)! A hen that eats a vegetarian diet (mostly corn meal) is going to produce eggs that have too many Omega 6 fatty acids and not enough Omega 3’s.

That’s why I buy eggs at farmers’ markets where I know the purveyors. I’ve been to their farms, and I know their hens are ‘pastured.’ That means they are moved from pasture to pasture (with their coop) to places where cows or sheep or pigs have recently grazed. I also know the eggs are Grade AA. That means really fresh – at most only a few days old – and very tasty.

The latest, big trend in dieting is Paleo (Joke: Do you have to eat like a caveman?) It takes “back to the future” to new lengths, based in part on ethnographic and anthropologic antecedents, as well as modern biochemistry and the science of fat metabolism. One of my favorite blogs is Archevore, by Kurt Harris, M. D. His basic premise: avoid the Neolithic Agents of Disease. NAD is his phrase to describe changes in the human diet that were introduced with the advent (10,000 years ago) of the Neolithic Age. They are 1) wheat (and the closely related gluten grains barley and rye); 2) excess amounts of fructose (including the 55% in HFCS and the 50% found in sucrose aka cane sugar or table sugar); and 3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) from processed vegetable oils made from seeds and grains (corn, soybean, Canola, sunflower, safflower, etc.). They are loaded with Omega 6’s and easily oxidized and damaged by storage, high heat and repeated use, such as deep fat frying.

The Paleo trend has generated considerable discussion online. Last summer, controversy emerged at the Ancestral Health Symposium in Los Angeles. It centers on ‘safe starches.’ This is a debate between the ‘establishment’ low-carb community, many of whom are pre-diabetics or type 2 diabetics, and the emergent Paleo crowd that tends to be younger, healthier and interested in a program that successfully may prevent and even heal “middle age and chronic health problems through diet.” Paleo is newly popular as a modern diet trend and is still evolving (pardon the phrase). It also has a broader potential application, as it is not intended solely for those who have a diagnosed metabolic disorder (e.g. T2 diabetes, insulin resistance or impaired glucose tolerance or symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome, including obesity). In that sense, it is a debate between the therapeutic and the prophylactic dieters: how to regain your health vs. how to stay healthy. The ‘safe starches’ debate will be the subject of the next column.

© Dan Brown 2/5/12