Counterpost: Your gluten-free, wheat-free, paleo, whatever diet is horrible

In the interest of balance — like a balanced meal, maybe — I’ll point you to this Q&A with a guy — who happens to be a  religion professor at James Madison University– who thinks all our fad diets are pretty stupid:

Food rituals, food taboos, dietary demons, dietary myths, magic diets, guilt, sin: why do we apply so much religious language to food?

Virtually ever religious tradition has had food taboos and sacred diets. I think part of the reason is that food is something that we have direct control over. It crosses the boundary in a very personal way: we take something outside of our body and put it into our body. Eating is very personal, and it’s easy to invest those kinds of things with religious and ritual significance.

With diets today, there seems to be a lot of fear involved, too.

It’s terrifying to live in a place where the causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s, autism, or ADHD, or the causes of weight gain, are mysterious. So what we do is come up with certain causes for the things that we fear.

If we’re trying to avoid things that we fear, why would we invent a world full of toxins that don’t really exist? Again, it’s about control. After all, if there are things that we’re scared of, then at least we know what to avoid. If there is a sacred diet, and if there are foods that are really taboo, yeah, it’s scary, but it’s also empowering, because we can readily identify culinary good and evil, and then we have a path that we can follow that’s salvific.

That gives you a taste of how a religion professor is approaching this topic. He specifically calls our the book Wheat Belly, which we’ve referenced often.

Given how well cutting wheat out has worked for us, I can only say, well, that: It worked for us. It may not work for everyone, but we encourage people who are curious to give it a try and see. And we think it comes down to common sense, the Michael Pollan “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

But there is one point I think is worth some thought:

What works for another culture might not work for our own culture. People ask me, what’s the harm? Why not just go gluten free? And the answer is that going gluten free has all sorts of effects. It affects your relationship with your friends and family. It affects your relationship with your own past and foods that you love. While there might be some culture in which celebratory foods don’t typically contain gluten, that’s not our culture.

For me, unless I have an extraordinary reason, I do try to err on the side of being a good guest or good host rather than a militant eater. Food’s great, and so is good health. But family and friendships are better.

Posted by Steve

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On coffee: ‘The potential health benefits are surprisingly large’

Another focus on all the positive health benefits of coffee for you to, um, digest. This from an online New York Times blog:

When I set out to look at the research on coffee and health, I thought I’d see it being associated with some good outcomes and some bad ones, mirroring the contradictory reports you can often find in the news media. This didn’t turn out to be the case.

Just last year, a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies looking at long-term consumption of coffee and the risk of cardiovascular disease was published. The researchers found 36 studies involving more than 1,270,000 participants. The combined data showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee, about three to five cups a day, were at the lowest risk for problems. Those who consumed five or more cups a day had no higher risk than those who consumed none.

The post goes on to list the increasingly large amount of evidence that suggests coffee is potentially good for you, in moderation — and that it certainly isn’t bad.

Because (repeat after me): No coffee, no prana.

(And thanks to the few of you who passed it on to me. I’m glad my reputation is established.)

Posted by Steve

FDA to look into whether it should be regulating homeopathies

Here’s news that will be of interest to those of you who try to eskew Western medicine where possible in favor of more tradition (others would say unproven) remedies: The FDA this week will look into whether it should be regulating these medicines.

NPR dove deep into the issue Monday morning:

Homeopathic medicine has long been controversial. It’s based on an idea known as “like cures like,” which means if you give somebody a dose of a substance — such as a plant or a mineral — that can cause the symptoms of their illness, it can, in theory, cure that illness if the substance has been diluted so much that it’s essentially no longer in the dose.

Critics say those ideas are nonsense, and that study after study has failed to find any evidence that homeopathy works.

“Homeopathy is an excellent example of the purest form of pseudoscience,” saysSteven Novella, a neurologist at Yale and executive editor of the website Science-Based Medicine. “These are principles that are not based upon science.”

Novella thinks consumers are wasting their money on homeopathic remedies. The cost of such treatments vary, with some over-the-counter products costing less than $10.

Some of the costs, such as visits to doctors and the therapies they prescribe, may be covered by insurance. But Novella says with so many people using homeopathic remedies, the costs add up.

There’s also some concern that homeopathic remedies could be dangerous if they’re contaminated or not completely diluted, or even if they simply don’t work.

As NPR makes clear, this doesn’t mean regulation is on the horizon. The FDA just is seeking some information of what, if anything, it might or ought to do. But I’m guessing the hearings will be pretty high energy.

Posted by Steve

Now you can drink that third cup of coffee

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m starting to think Starbucks is behind all the pro-coffee research that drips out like, well, obviously, coffee from an old-school coffee maker.

But it remains my duty to pass on info that supports the “No coffee, no prana” motto of this here site. So, here it is:

Researchers found that people who drink between three and five cups of coffee a day are likely to have less coronary artery calcium (CAC) than those who drink no coffee at all.

They also found a correlation between people who drink between one and three cups of coffee a day and a reduced prevalence of CAC, according to a paper published Monday in the journal Heart.

But try not to overdo it: Drinking more than five cups of coffee a day was associated with a higher levels of CAC, the authors report.

Calcium in the coronary artery isn’t always a problem, but at high enough levels it can be an early sign of coronary heart disease.

I love the idea of a journal called Heart. How that isn’t a New Age publication, I don’t know.

This study was of nearly 30,000 men and women in South Korea. The researchers say they don’t know why coffee might be good for you — and that (as always) further research is needed.

But back to my Starbucks suspicion. Here’s how this article ends:

A flurry of recent reports suggest that there are many reasons to drink coffee: For example, it has been associated with improvements in short term memory, and reducing the risk of developing multiple sclerosis, melanoma Type 2 diabetes and liver cancer.

Remember all that pro-wine research?

Also, on the diet front: Science tells us why Indian food is so tasty.

Posted by Steve

Draft nutrition rules tell you what we’ve been saying: Drink coffee!

The U.S. is in the process of updating its official dietary guidelines, and the initial recommendations have been released telling you all what we keep saying: Coffee is good for you.

Here’s NPR’s take:

If you like a cup of coffee and an egg in the morning, you’ve got the green light.

A panel of top nutrition experts appointed by the federal government has weighed in with its long-awaited diet advice.

Their conclusions are that daily cup of joe (or two) may help protect against Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And an egg a day will not raise the risk of heart disease in healthy people. Hold the sugary muffin, though.

More generally, the guidelines encourage more fruit and vegetables — both for health reasons and because they are more sustainable than something like red meat. Another big focus is: Cut sugar. And that’s not easy because there is so much sugar hidden in foods — in condiments, in sauces, in cereals, sort of everywhere.

If you’re feeling skeptical about these government-endorsed suggestions, there’s reason. The New York Times sums it up nicely:

Since they were first issued in 1980, the guidelines have largely encouraged people to follow a low-fat diet, which prompted an explosion of processed foods stripped of fat and loaded with sugar. Studies show that replacing fat with refined carbohydrates like bread, rice and sugar can actually worsen cardiovascular health, so the guidelines encourage Americans to focus not on the amount of fat they are eating but on the type.

The guidelines advise people to eat unsaturated fat — the kind found in fish, nuts, and olive and vegetable oils — in place of saturated fat, which occurs primarily in animal foods.

The panel also dropped a longstanding recommendation that Americans restrict their intake of dietary cholesterol from foods like eggs and shrimp — a belated acknowledgment of decades of research showing that dietary cholesterol has little or no effect on the blood cholesterol levels of most people.

This time, though, they are moving toward what in our household holds true: limited processed foods, lots of vegetables (raw usually) and no real fear of eggs or even butter.

The guidelines now go through a 45-day public comment period. NPR says the updated guidelines will be released by the end of the year.

Posted by Steve

Vegan for a month?

We’re reeling here at the news that Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show, which may mean we’ll drown ourselves in some combo of whiskey and pho.

But we shouldn’t. So, to help us stay on the good side of things — if not the raw one — here’s a collection of stories and recipes as the Los Angeles Times tries to figure out its wacky Westside of LA readership via Veganism:

I’ve heard from many people motivated to become vegan by animal welfare issues. Health and the environment are other reasons to discuss, but this week, about halfway through my month chronicling my vegan ways, I’m going to turn to some practicalities.

Just how hard is it to become a vegan? If you’re new to it, where do you start? I’ve gotten some advice from readers, and I’ve reached out to a few people.

Our problem with a lot of these products is all the processing.

Posted by Steve

Stop juicing

I don’t mean like this guy.

I mean your possibly usual morning ritual of running an apple, kale, spinach and who knows what else through a juicer.

Why?

You’re better off blending.

That’s the findings from a slightly old study that gets new life via NPR this week:

What they found is the blended juice had significantly higher levels of beneficial phytonutrients compared to the juice made with a juicer (the electric juicer and hand juicer had about the same levels).

In particular, the blended juice had about a seven-fold higher content of a compound called naringin.

[snip]

The authors of the paper tell The Salt they did not expect such a significant difference.

“Yes, I was indeed surprised and so was everyone in the lab,” Rammohan Uckoo, a researcher at the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M, tells us by email.

So, what explains the difference? “The blended juice had the highest pulp content, which corresponds to the maximum levels of naringin,” Uckoo says.

In addition, the blended juice contained more of the fruit’s segment membranes — those white layers of papery fiber that line the outside of each segments — which have higher concentrations of flavonoids.

Or put another way: All that stuff left over in your juicer? It’s good for you.

Posted by Steve