Your Guide to Navigating Sugar, Celiac Disease & the Media Frenzy

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A few days ago I was flooded with messages from family, friends, and followers, sharing a New York Times article that had shocked them all. This article detailed how the sugar industry paid scientists in the 60’s to target saturated fat as the primary factor in heart disease instead of sugar.

591735.jpgThe Sugar Association, previous known as the “Sugar Research Foundation”, paid over $50,000 to multiple researchers in order to keep the focus on saturated fat as opposed to the role of sugar in the development of heart disease.

Although every person that shared this with me expressed some level of surprise, it didn’t even elicit a heavy sigh or jaw-drop for me. This article sums up the standard of nutrition and health research in the United States for close to a century.

First there was the Seven Countries Study in the late 50’s in which one researcher set out to prove his personal belief that animal protein and fat was the cause of heart disease…with funding of $200,000 from the U.S. Public Health Service!

This “scientist” went on to cherry-pick six countries that best supported his belief, while removing 14 others that had low rates of heart disease despite diets full of saturated fat and animal products.

Later there was the China Study, where a researcher looked at the rates of cancer for the whole of China, took the daily diet of one particular area, and applied it to the whole country, claiming that the diet was the sole cause of the low cancer rates. Next, the researcher exposed rats to cancer causing toxins, fed them highly processed, inflammatory protein that their natural diets wouldn’t include, and when the cancer cells grew, claimed that all animal protein would cause the same results in humans!

Dgssi2id you know that there is such a thing as the “Gatorade Sports Science Institute”? And that nearly every recommendation regarding hydration, whether from a study or just propagation of long-standing rhetoric, comes from this “institute”?

So, we’ve got food producers paying for the studies that will affect national health guidelines, guaranteeing sales of their products.

We’ve got researchers trying to prove that their personal beliefs and diets are best for preventing disease while burying any data that disproves their hypothesis.

And we’ve got enormous leaps of faith, referred to as epidemiological studies, assuming that 1 single factor is the end-all be-all for a population of millions.

But now we are at the peak of the information age! People can now go online and look at the actual studies. We can find the fallacies and the strengths in different studies, and then that information can be spread across the globe in a matter of seconds thanks to social media.

Other countries have been testing for Celiac disease at birth for decades.

celiaci-940x625Italy is proposing a new law that could result in jail time for parents that force a vegan diet on their children (due to lack of naturally occurring essential nutrients such as EPA/DHA, B vitamins, and activated fat-soluble vitamins).

Government agencies are trying to limit prescription of opiates and benzodiazepines (even if the damage has already been done).

All this represents a shift in the paradigm of health. No longer is there one Standard American Diet.

Some people are replacing grains with veggies while others only eat “ancient” grains that have been sprouted. Some people limit protein and calories while others skip breakfast to reap the same fasting benefits. People are aware that buying pastured beef or pork from a local farmer, or buying chickens to have their own source of eggs, is a choice that not only affects their health, but the environment as a whole.

Keep one eye on the news, whether popular sources like the New York Times or digital forms found on blogs and doctor-run websites. But keep the other eye on the actual research. When an article has some super catchy title, see if there is a link to the study.

Read the methods – is it based on dozens of individuals in a perfectly controlled facility 24/7? Or does it make assumptions from a birds-eye view of millions?

Read the conclusions – does a diet of grass-fed pastured beef cause cancer? Or is the true danger a specific molecule found in highly-processed meats, that is normally consumed on a whole pizza or between two buns of sugar?

I guess what I’m saying is empower yourself!

Some of this may be complicated in the beginning, but as you read more and more, you’ll pick it up just like a second language…and remember I’m only a message away!

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An Avocado A Day…

It seems everyday a new study emerges showing that eating more dietary fats improves cholesterol levels. At the same time, carbohydrate consumption tends to have a much more negative affect in most diseases and health conditions.

One recent study suggests that fats found in nature, in this case avocados, are more beneficial than their man-made counterparts, such as canola and sunflower seed oil.

Although the sample size was small (only 45 individuals), the structuring was far more reliable than most diet “studies”. Most studies look at massive populations to form weak correlations between food and health. This study, however, used randomized, crossover, controlled feeding trials.

The experiment separated participants into three groups:

  1. A group eating a low-fat diet. Fat accounted for about 25% of daily calories, in line with USDA recommendations.
  2. A group eating a moderate-fat diet, accounting for 35% of calories. The extra fat calories in this group came from processed seed oils.
  3. A group eating a moderate-fat diet, with extra fat coming for one whole avocado a day. Fat still accounted for about 35% of calories.

After a mere 5 weeks, the moderate-fat group consuming seed oil saw a reduction in “bad cholesterol” of almost 10 points. The low-fat group experienced a statistically insignificant drop of less than 5 points.

The truly remarkable part: the moderate-fat group eating one avocado a day experienced an average reduction of almost 15 points!

This could be due to a couple factors.

First, avocados contain 14 grams of fiber, more than 3 servings of oatmeal! Fiber reduces blood sugar spikes and helps the body transport cholesterol.

Second, avocados are extremely nutrient-dense, providing 15% to 50% of almost every vitamin and mineral. Man-made oils contain no essential nutrients.

I started eating one avocado a day almost 3 years ago and almost immediately noticed this benefit to my cholesterol levels.

The nice thing is that avocado has a very mild taste and can be seasoned to compliment almost any dish. Sometimes I’ll have an avocado with an omelet in the morning. Other times I’ll make guacamole as a substitute for a bun when I have burgers for dinner. It is very rare that I skip this valuable and versatile food.

My final takeaway from this study:

Replace man-made fats, such as canola and soybean oil, with whole foods like avocado and coconuts. You’ll feel full longer, provide your body with more nutrients, improve blood markers of health, and get closer to eating what nature provides!

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Epidemiological Studies

I spend hours every day reading studies, articles, and researching health-related matters. When I find a new publication or exploration of a topic, I get excited to dive in. That being said, some studies and articles are more useful than others.

One type of study that is used frequently to make health claims and guide public policy is an “epidemiological study”. Epidemiology is the study of a set population, or group of people, to develop correlations or inferences.

The problem is that these do not prove anything. When we find a strong correlation between factors, we should use that as a starting point to conduct further research. An epidemiological study, by itself, should never be the basis for making health policies.

Let me give some examples.

Epidemiology suggests that soy is a healthy incorporation in a diet. This is due to the fact that Asian countries consume high amounts of soy on a regular basis and don’t experience the same health problems as Western nations.

However, no other factors are taken into account.

The soy that Asians consume has not been genetically modified to the same extent as ours, nor has it been grown in soils depleted of minerals. Also, most Asian dishes use fermented soy or the bean in its natural state.

Asian cultures consume more wild-caught fish (high in anti-inflammatory omega-3s), sea vegetables (loaded with vitamins and minerals), and opt for white rice, with less anti-nutrients and gut-damaging proteins than typical “heart-healthy” whole grains such as wheat and oatmeal.

Historically, Asians don’t consume as much processed food as Americans. They don’t cook in corn or canola oil, they don’t have packaged foods at every meal, and they don’t go out to eat as often.

And finally, they are far more active – walking, biking, and taking the stairs as part of daily life.

Because of these factors, we cannot confidently say that the consumption of soy in Asian countries is the cause of their better health.

When we look at soy mechanistically, we find phytoestrogens that have the potential to skew hormone levels, leading to fat-storage and growth of cancer cells. It is extremely high in inflammatory omega-6s. Take into consideration our growing practices, extensive refinement process, and consumption of soy byproducts, and soy consumption in the US no longer seems as safe.

Another example of epidemiology lacking substance:

In March of this year, there was a headline stating: “Animal protein-rich diets could be as harmful to health as smoking”. These news reports were based upon two studies: one epidemiological study of over 6000 adults and one study of mice in a laboratory.

The results of these studies suggested that a high protein diet (over 20% of calories) was “positively associated with diabetes-related mortality”. When you look at the numbers, one person in the “high-protein” group (consisting of over 1000 individuals) died from diabetes.

The lead researcher running this study owns a plant-derived protein supplement company…explaining the claim that only animal-protein is dangerous.

Some other issues:

There was no way to control for protein quality. There has never been a study showing negative outcomes from consumption of wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, or eggs from pasture-raised chickens.

The mice that experienced growth of cancer tumors were implanted with melanoma cells before the study began. Plus, the study found that high protein consumption was “not associated with all-cause, CVD, or cancer mortality”. Therefore, the protein-cancer correlation was in fact disproved.

Finally, diet was self-reported. The average participant reported consuming 1,800 calories a day…30% lower than the national average. This suggests major under-reporting.

So, even though the study was riddled with flaws, and actually found no increased risk from animal-protein consumption, the results were phrased to dissuade individuals from consuming meat.

To get back to my original point – epidemiology is used too often to prove a pre-existing belief, promote a political agenda, or increase profits.

By itself, epidemiology is no different than trying to claim that the number of birds flying over a particular region somehow determines cancer rates in that area.

Certainly we should use any research tactic available to ask questions and form a hypothesis…but ultimately, we need to examine issues in every way possible.

Once we’ve investigated mechanisms, done cohort studies and some “food-diary” studies with pictures, it’s time to form a hypothesis and conduct a blinded, crossover, metabolic ward trial to draw some real conclusions!
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A Calorie Is NOT A Calorie!

This is something health coaches, nutritionists, and scientists (trained in biology, chemistry, or endocrinology, as opposed to conventional medicine) have said for decades.

The notion that all calories are the same; that calories-in (consumed) compared to calories-out (burned) is the end-all-be-all in terms of bodyweight; is archaic and damaging to our public’s health.

Just last week, a study was published showing the results of consuming a high-protein diet. However, fat and carb intake was held constant between the two groups, meaning the high-protein group was consuming over 500 extra calories a day.

After 8 weeks, there was no difference between the two groups, in terms of bodyweight or body composition.

This suggests:

1.) Excess calories coming from protein may not lead to weight gain. This may be invaluable for individuals trying to lose weight considering that protein is the most satiating macronutrient.

2.) It is not necessary to consume extra protein to gain muscle. This is most useful for individuals trying to put on muscle, since protein can be the most expensive macronutrient.

I’ve always suggested my clients try to consume one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This has been the standard for athletes and performance-oriented individuals for decades. Unfortunately, the general public has been convinced that protein is bad for the kidneys or the body as a whole.

There are many studies showing that individuals with kidney impairment have issues with high-protein diets…but these results have never been replicated with healthy populations.

The way major food companies produce and prepare meat will make it harmful to our body (and the environment). Feeding corn to cows literally becomes a race against the clock to see if the cow can grow fat enough to slaughter, before it dies of indigestion and infection. At the same time, grain-feeding will skew the omega-3 / omega-6 ratio, increasing the amount of inflammatory omega-6 found in the animals fat.

However, if cows, or any animal for that matter, are given enough land to wander about, and a natural diet for them to freely consume, their meat will not only be healthy for us, but may be the most beneficial food we can consume.

So, if your goal is to reduce body-fat, and you plan to achieve weight-loss using calorie restriction, make sure you are not reducing your protein intake. And keep in mind, if you are hungry or have trouble staying full, have a few extra bites of protein.

Alternatively, if you are trying to increase muscle mass, consume 1g protein per 1lb bodyweight, but, after that save your money and get extra calories from natural carbs or healthy fats. Scoops of expensive protein powder or additional pounds of chicken breast may not make a significant difference.

This study is just one more step towards correcting our understanding of food and the human body. Nothing that comes from nature, meant to give us sustenance, is automatically bad for us. It is only when we tinker with nature, maximizing production while minimizing cost, that problems arise.