Sunday, January 27, 2013

The increasing popularity of plant based diets

Have you noticed how heavily plant based diets - the new term for vegan - are currently being pushed in the media?  I'm getting the distinct feeling that eating meat is frowned upon in many foodie circles.

But that doesn't mean that switching to an entirely plant-based diet is the answer either, though this video would like to have you believe that it is:

There are several problems with this video:  Firstly, it's rather selective.  For example, two of the best known proponents of ancestral eating, both of whom most definitely aren't vegetarian, weren't mentioned at all in the video, namely, Gary Taubes and Mark Sisson.

Gary Taubes

Both could easily be confused with vegans, if one were to believe that a meat-based diet makes you fat and unhealthy.

Looking for a female role-model?  Sarah Ballantyne, who blogs as the Paleo Mom, claims to have lost 120lb following a low carbohydrate paleo diet.   More importantly, her approach has helped her overcome some serious medical issues.  She looks pretty good to me.

But at the end of the day, I'm not convinced that weight is the most important measure of health.  The video would have us believe that the people mentioned have no cardiovascular problems or diabetes.  Will they live longer than those of us who do eat animal products?  Will they have less arthritis and osteoporosis as they age?

Most of us would like to live a long life that is relatively free of medical problems.  There is some scientific evidence that being moderately overweight is positively correlated with lower mortality, though little is mentioned about quality of life factors.  I honestly can't say whether there is unbiased scientific evidence that accurately shows which body type (lean, average or slightly overweight) is best for a pain-free old age.

I'm not really interested in getting into a debate about which approach to dietary health is superior.  It could be that some people are better suited to a vegan diet, and others are not.

At 47, I could stand to lose another 15lb, but I am moderately fit, and have no health problems. I eat almost 12 eggs (from free range chickens) a week, some red meat (not feedlot), liver from time to time,  regular bone broth, a fair amount of good cheese, homemade kefir but otherwise limited dairy products - all this in addition to a plant based diet.  I suspect my intake of vitamins A, D and K2 are higher than that of most vegans, which should be good for my long term heart and bone health.   The gelatin in bone broth should help keep inflammation and degenerative disease at bay.

For me, that's good enough to keep me from being interested in seeking out a different approach to nutrition.  What about you?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Harveys for Heart Health?

You may have seen that the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation has added its Health Check to four  meal combinations on Harvey's menu.  The story recently hit the headlines in our local news, because of the still high sodium content of these combo meals.  With maximum recommended total daily sodium intake at 1,500 mg a day, they provide more than half a day's salt in one sitting.

This is a fair comment, but it doesn't get me nearly as riled up as the fact that the nutrition information on the advertisement tells you nothing about the sugars in this meal:

To find out about the carbohydrates, you have to go back to the home page, click through to the nutrition table, and scroll down to what Harvey's calls their "healthier options".

It's a long table, so I've cut and pasted it a bit to hone in on the carbohydrates.  If you were to order the Grilled Veggie Burger combo with vinaigrette dressing, you'd be looking at 57g (61g-11g+8g) of carbohydrates.  The grilled chicken and original combos all sit above 50g as well.

To put carbohydrate counts into perspective, I always like to go back to Mark Sisson's carbohydrate curve
For "effortless weight maintenance", Sisson recommends no more than 100g to 150g of carbohydrates a day.  The "sweet spot" is at 50g to 100g a day.  

Even if you're not overweight, you would (or should) be interested in keeping your heart healthy, and similar daily targets are relevant.

After consuming your choice of combo meal (assuming no fries, and no sugars whatsoever in your beverage), there's not much left for the rest of your day's meals.

How is it that the Heart and Stroke Foundation can give its check of approval to a combo meal that provides more than 50g of net carbohydrates?   

How is it that carbohydrates don't make it onto their radar at all?

I haven't eaten a Harvey's burger in years, though I used to like theirs better than any others, so this might be my restaurant of choice if I were inclined to grab a burger, even though I don't eat bread any more.  And I do get the difference in purchasing an occasional snack or treat that throws my numbers off, as opposed to doing it on a regular basis.  However, the way I see it, H&S's health check implies there'd be nothing wrong with eating one of these combos every day, if you were so inclined.