Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dairy or non Dairy?

I think my opinion of eating patterns can be summed up best by "Whatever works for you..."  Although what we eat at our house tends towards a Paleo approach, we do consume dairy products, which are a big no-no.

But being of solid Northern European stock, combined with my love of good cheese and butter, a daily cappuccino, and the odd creme brulee, I definitely get a failing grade from the "avoid dairy" camp.

For people with lactose intolerance, I can see a distinct advantage to avoiding milk products.  But not all of us are lactose intolerant.  Paleo adherents and vegans alike both make claims that only 20% of the world's population is lactose tolerant.  What they fail to say is that where you are from has a lot to do with it.  If you are of Asian descent, milk is likely to cause you problems.  If you are from Northern Europe, where milk has been a constant part of the food supply for thousands of years, you might be cursed with freckles and an inability to tan safely, but you are much likely to be able to drink milk without needing to run to the bathroom 30 minutes afterwards.

I also make milk kefir and drink it on a regular basis.  This is supposedly very good for the health of your gut flora, and is delicious in a smoothie.  I go through phases of making yoghurt, but kefir is even easier.  Once you have a supply of kefir grains, all you do is add them to a glass of fresh milk from the fridge, and leave the concoction to stand, loosely covered, on the kitchen counter for 24 hours.  Strain, and add to smoothies or drink as is.  The next batch is made by adding the strained kefir grains to a new glass of milk and repeating the process.

But away from recipes and fermented milk products.  Sticking to the facts, if you are looking for an intelligent, balanced and unbiased overview of dairy vs. non-dairy, you might be interested in David Katz's take.  Admittedly his view is remarkably similar to mine, so maybe I'm just drawn to him because he affirms my own opinion.

He says:
There are few if any studies comparing optimal plant-based diets with and without dairy, or optimal Paleo diets with and without dairy. Such studies are not even plausible, but in their absence, we can't say that adding dairy to such diets would make them better, or worse. There is no good evidence-based case for healthy vegans to add dairy to their diets. On the other hand, I can find no good evidence that popular dairy substitutes are reliably more nutritious.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chicken Liver

There are many reasons to eat liver, one of them being that I have always liked it, though I do admit that it is an acquired taste.  When I was a teenager, I remember coming home from school quite often and broiling some chicken liver and butter with lots of black pepper for a snack.

But nowadays, many people don't eat it any more.  In our family, we buy most of our meat from local farmers, though getting hold of chicken or beef liver from them can be quite difficult.  So, even though I would prefer not to, if I want chicken liver, I have to get it from the grocery store - when they even have it.

At our local Freshco, liver, kidneys and other less popular animal parts are sold under the "Etnico" brand.  The red label also reads, "Ingredients for Traditional Cooking".

It strikes me as sad that the very foods that are healthiest for us are more and more difficult to find these days, and when they are available, we have to hunt them down in the "ethnic" section of the supermarket.  Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer people eat this kind of food any more?  I don't know what you understand under "ethnic" - I wasn't born in Canada, so that probably puts me more in the ethnic side of the grocery aisle.  Yet on the whole, what we used to eat while growing up seems to have been largely similar to what middle class Canadian children ate in the seventies - though I do admit that most people wouldn't have chosen chicken liver for their afternoon snack.

You could definitely make a very convincing argument that nowadays, so-called ethnic or traditional foods are generally healthier.  More and more often, the mainstream stuff is processed.

Now that I am an adult, I wonder why I was drawn to chicken liver at the time.  After all, tells us it's rich in vitamin A, B6, B12, iron and folate, which make for healthy bone and cell development.  I've always been a believer in the body's innate ability to seek out nutrients that it needs, and it doesn't surprise me that a growing 15 year old should benefit greatly from a regular infusion of these nutrients.

There's another great reason to eat chicken liver, and it's the same reason why beef bones are an excellent choice:  they are cheap.  I see all too many complaints about the high cost of eating healthy food, and while I totally agree that organic vegetables are often out of reach for those on a tight budget, there are also plenty of delicious meals that can be rustled up very easily and very economically.  I've often been able to get beef bones for free, though I think $1 for a big bag is also an excellent deal.  And at $8/kg, the chicken livers I bought this morning were also quite inexpensive - and in my case they were even cheaper: they gave me 30% off because because their use by date is tomorrow.  No problem here, because they have already been cooked and largely consumed!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Ultimate Guide to eating Paleo

This infographic, from, sums up the Paleo approach to nutrition so succinctly that no further explanation is required, other than to mention that you need to click on the image to see it more clearly.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Watch Fat Head on Youtube

If you haven't yet had an opportunity to watch this great movie, here's your chance to watch it free - and legitimately - on YouTube.  Tom Naughton explains in an easy to understand, humorous way, why it's the sugars in the Standard American Diet that are making us fat.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Diabetic meals on Delta flights

This year I've had to take several extremely long transcontinental flights, and I decided to pre-order the diabetic meals to see what they were like.

After the first flight, I knew this is the way to go in the future.  In spite of my tiredness, I felt a lot better after disembarking than I usually do.  You sometimes read reports of how calorie and fat laden airline food can be, and I really appreciated eating more salad and fresh fruit rather than being even nominally tempted (out of boredom more than anything else) to eat the cardboard-flavoured rocks that passed for bread and the doughy bowls of overly sweetened desserts.

While none of the meals were terribly memorable, a typical example was an entree consisting of white rice and lean chicken served with vegetables, a side salad, and a small portion of tropical fruit for dessert.  The salad dressing was fat free, and the ingredient listing showed sugar in addition to balsamic vinegar, which happens to be a greater source of carbohydrates than most other vinegars.  Margarine accompanied the aforementioned doughy white bread roll, while the passengers without dietary restrictions were offered real butter, which I would have preferred.  Since I wasn't eating the bread anyway, I didn't touch the omega 6 rich margarine either.  Somehow I wasn't surprised there was no sign of any real "healthy whole grains" on the tray.

Clearly, I think Delta has room to improve.  The little printed sheet that accompanied the meal explains it all:

Look at the four criteria above:  the meal was low in calories, cholesterol, fat and sodium.  The low calorie and fat content meant the meal wasn't terribly filling.  However, given the lack of movement on a long-haul flight (over 15 hours in my case), I suspect that staying slightly hungry helped me avoid that horrible sluggish feeling that most people get after landing and which can make jetlag worse to overcome.

Dietary cholesterol is known to have very little impact on cholesterol in the bloodstream, and sodium is another one that is widely demonized even though the real science does not point to it being harmful in and of itself.  The absence of the widely recommended "healthy whole grains" serves to reminds me each time just how seldom these are served in institutional settings.

But what about the total carbohydrates served?  Once again, we are tiptoeing around the giant elephant in the room.  If a diabetic person is unable to properly process sugars, why isn't a sugar count provided as one of the measures on the criteria sheet? 

To be honest, I don't blame Delta per se.  They appear to be following nutritional guidelines that we already know are based on flawed science, and as I already mentioned, I found this meal to be preferable to what the other passengers were offered.  Airlines are in the business of flying people to their destinations safely and on time.  Noone is asking them to challenge the so-called experts on diabetes management.

But I am sure you will also agree that there is room for improvement.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

20/20 Looked at Low Carb 10 Years Ago

It's incredible to think that this video from the TV magazine show 20/20 featured Taubes' then fairly revolutionary thinking on carbohydrates.  It was on July 7th, 2002, that his New York Times article, "What if it's all a big fat lie?" was published.  I remember reading afterwards that it was disastrous for bread sales.

Towards the end, Barbara Walters mentions that the Atkins Diet is a radical departure from conventional eating, and mentions that one can only eat "very little" in the way of vegetables.  I don't know where this is coming from, because Atkins most definitely emphasizes large quantities of non-starchy vegetables every day - more, in fact, than most people eat on the Standard American Diet.

I also don't feel that the way we eat is very extreme.   Many days, our meals resemble traditional homecooked meals, just without the bread, potatoes, rice or pasta.  And we skip the low-fat options too, so there's always a fair amount of cheese in the house, as well as cream and butter.

Be that as it may, I'm not a big fan of the Atkins diet.  To me, it allows too much prepared food and baked goods, which detracts from the whole food approach that I believe in.  However, I know it has worked for millions of people.  What do you think?  Take a look at the video and see for yourself:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pasta-eating, beer-drinking Swedes and LCHF diets

A large new 25 year observational study from Sweden published in Nutrition Journal this month has found that Swedes started increasing their fat consumption from about 2004 onwards at the same time that low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diets became popular.   This was a reversal of a trend towards lower fat options that started in the mid-1980's.

In addition to a distinct switch away from low fat margarine to butter, the following tables show a growing trend towards increased fat in the diet:

Far from losing weight as a result of the increased fat consumption (something the low carb community might expect), the body mass indexes (BMI) of the Swedes participating in the study continued to increase throughout the 25 year study period:

What was particularly worrisome to researchers was an apparent reversal in the long term downward trend of serum cholesterol levels starting around 2004, leading them to believe that Swedes were putting themselves at increasing risk of cardiovascular disease:

At this point you are probably thinking that this does not bode well for proponents of low carbohydrate eating.  After all, what could be clearer than the following trends away from carbohydrates in favour of fats?

As it happens, this study leaves me with more questions and skeptical observations than constructive conclusions:
  • While the percentage of energy from carbohydrates has been steadily falling in recent years, I would like to know whether the total calories consumed changed in this period, and if so, whether they increased or decreased.
  • On page 6, the study notes that there were 23 observations of BMI measurements under 10, and 3 above 100.  I don't know if any living person has ever had a BMI above 100.  Below 10 is also very unlikely.  One person was also recorded as measuring 2.7 meters (that's almost 9 feet!).  It's well known that the Swedes are some of the tallest people in the world, but that's rather extreme.  If the trained nurses who recorded these measurements made these 27 mistakes, I hope we can assume the others were more or less accurate.
  • This was an observational study.  There are many valid criticisms of observational studies drawn from self-reported questionnaires.  Portion sizes are notoriously variable, and people are often far from accurate in what they report that they eat.
  • It is very unfortunate that only total cholesterol was reported (it does not appear to have been measured).  Without knowing the subjects' triglyceride levels, or their HDL, the cholesterol trends in the table above are predictive of nothing. This must have been a terrifically expensive study, and it's a shameful waste not to have at least measured HDL.  
  • A very interesting chart shows that alcohol consumption showed a clear and steady upward trend.  In particular, men's consumption of export beer showed a steady increase that appeared to have had absolutely no correlation to the popularity of LCHF dieting.  Do you think those beer drinkers public realize what a carb-load beer provides?
  • On page 9 we read that consumption of boiled potatoes and whole grain crisp bread was balanced by consumption of pasta and whole grain soft bread during the 25 year study period.  It sounds to me as if carbohydrate consumption stayed relatively constant, even though they may now represent a smaller percentage of total food consumed.  In other words, I suspect total calories eaten increased even though this is not confirmed in the stufy.
So what do the results of this study mean?

I'm inclined to agree with the researchers that these Swedes might be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease than they might have been 10 or 15 years ago. This is probably because they are fatter than they used to be, and they appear to be eating more total calories than before because of an increased consumption of fats.  If they diminished their carbohydrate consumption at all, it probably wasn't by much, as consumption of potatoes and crispbread was replaced with bread and pasta, as well as more beer and wine, all rich carb sources.  However, because no detail was provided regarding the subjects' HDL and triglycerides, the rising cholesterol trend has little predictive power at all.

The wording of the study, and the resulting media headlines imply that LCHF diets lead to greater risk of cardiovascular disease.  However, there's probably no point at all in drawing any conclusions at all about the validity of low carb diets based on the results of this study, since the test subjects did not eat low carb diets.

Besides, just because LCHF started to become popular in the media around 2004, there's no proof that this has anything to do with any of the other apparent changes in trends.  Correlation does not necessarily mean causation.

While the subjects may have switched to HF, there's no indication of LC, in spite of what the headline might imply.

Oh well, I suppose the research funds helped to support the economy, at least.  But I would have preferred to have learned something useful and new from this study.

Edit:  It seems I'm in good company.  Denise Minger from Raw Food SOS shares many of the same thoughts on this Swedish study.  You can read her critique here.