Here are the best and worst diets — maybe

U.S. News & World Reports — perhaps most famous for its best colleges and best high schools rankings — has brought its expertise and acumen to the world of food.

Its ranked — with the help of a panel of “health experts” — 35 different diets. According to its metrics, “To be top-rated, a diet had to be relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and protective against diabetes and heart disease.”

The best? An apparently government-approved one called “DASH”:

DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure, not as an all-purpose diet. But it certainly looked like an all-star to our panel of experts, who gave it high marks for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes, and role in supporting heart health. Though obscure, it beat out a field full of better-known diets.

From there, one created by the National Institutes of Health is next, followed by one from the Mayo Clinic. Feeling or seeing a pattern?

Well, No. 4 is the classic “Mediterranean Diet”:

With its emphasis on fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish and other healthy fare, the Mediterranean diet is eminently sensible. And experts’ assessments of it were resoundingly positive, giving this diet an edge over many competitors.

A few more to, er, whet your appetite: Jenny Craig at No. 8, The Biggest Loser at No. 9, a Vegetarian at No. 11. (Yep!)

But we have to go even farther down the list to get where I’m looking. Vegan — its No. 19. But that’s still not where my eye has fallen. Not even at the Macrobiotic, at a cool No. 26.

I’m looking at the Raw Food diet. Which — despite our experience — sucks, apparently. It’s at No. 32:

The experts conferred solid marks on the diet for weight loss, both short- and long-term, but considered it all but impossible to follow and its nutritional completeness and safety were concerns. “Doing it well involves considerable commitment and effort, knowledge and sacrifice,” one expert said. “And there are diets that require less of all these that are likely to be just as healthful.”

OK, maybe that is hard to argue with. But at least it is better than the Paleo, tied for the worst at No. 34 with something called the Dukan diet. (I was hoping that was Dunkin’, as in the doughnuts, but no.)

The one thing I’ll give this list is that it has fairly decent links explaining all the diets. But it sure isn’t friendly to anything that one might generally call “alternative.”

Posted by Steve

Yogi diet: Avoid processed foods, people

I tossed off at the end of a recent post the news that a study of all our fad and not-so fad diets discovered an underlying, healthy commonality among them: avoidance of processed foods.

It deserves a little more attention, I think.

The full study from Annual Reviews can be found here. But, as is so often the case, relying on someone — let’s say at the Atlantic — to put it into plain-speak English can be helpful:

They conclude that no diet is clearly best, but there are common elements across eating patterns that are proven to be beneficial to health. “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”

Among the salient points of proven health benefits the researchers note, nutritionally-replete plant-based diets are supported by a wide array of favorable health outcomes, including fewer cancers and less heart disease. These diets ideally included not just fruits and vegetables, but whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Katz and Meller found “no decisive evidence” that low-fat diets are better than diets high in healthful fats, like the Mediterranean. Those fats include a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than the typical American diet.

(The Paleo diet, one that makes us giggle, doesn’t fare very well.)

So if all the diets are about equal, what to do? In sort of an answer, one of the authors did say this to the Atlantic:

“If you eat food direct from nature,” Katz added, “you don’t even need to think about this. You don’t have to worry about trans fat or saturated fat or salt—most of our salt comes from processed food, not the salt shaker. If you focus on real food, nutrients tend to take care of themselves.”

Amen. Although avoiding wheat still works for us. You can’t get rid of all the fads, right?

Posted by Steve


Yogi diet: At last, we know what ‘gluten-free’ means

The title, before anyone writes anything, is a joke. Of course we know what “gluten-free” means. It’s just that the U.S. government didn’t, before now:

People with celiac disease can now have confidence in the meaning of a “gluten-free” label on foods.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a final rule that defines what characteristics a food has to have to bear a label that proclaims it “gluten- free.” The rule also holds foods labeled “without gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “no gluten” to the same standard.

This rule has been eagerly awaited by advocates for people with celiac disease, who face potentially life-threatening illnesses if they eat the gluten found in breads, cakes, cereals, pastas and many other foods.

As one of the criteria for using the claim “gluten-free,” FDA is setting a gluten limit of less than 20 ppm (parts per million) in foods that carry this label. This is the lowest level that can be consistently detected in foods using valid scientific analytical tools. Also, most people with celiac disease can tolerate foods with very small amounts of gluten. This level is consistent with those set by other countries and international bodies that set food safety standards.

The FDA released that last Friday. So now you know.

If you look over to the side of this blog, you’ll see our “Yogi diet” includes no wheat. It isn’t because either of us has celiac disease; it’s just that we’ve found we feel better, keep a more regulated weight (no wheat belly) and don’t get various sugar highs and lows when we aren’t eating wheat. All of that is caused by a change in modern wheat’s amino acids.

I haven’t seen anything that tried to link that change to the rise in celiac disease. In a lot of ways, the no-wheat thing when not attached to gluten-free is still sort of “out there.” (And it’s a bummer when you think about dosas or naan.) It’s our greatest nod to that vast changes that a yoga routine can cause (or the havoc it can wreck). But it is one we can’t but embrace.

And, to be clear: This FDA pronouncement doesn’t change things at all for us. We avoid gluten-free products like the plague because they are processed.

Posted by Steve

Yogi diet: Do you know where your sugar is hiding?

This past week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a five-year study of American eating habits that found that most “added sugar” in the U.S. diet comes from food, not beverages, and that most of that hidden sugar got eaten at home — not out on the town.

In other words: We (Americans, anyway) aren’t eating all that healthy at home when we think we might be, and colas, sports drinks, etc. aren’t necessarily the big boogieman we think. (That said, they are terrible.)

Here’s a link to the study.


Government diet guidelines — which probably are a lot “looser” than many yoga practitioners follow — suggest limiting “discretionary” calories to between 5% to 15% of total consumption.

I bet you won’t be surprised to find that typically Americans are at the high end of that, about 13%. Maybe it is surprising we aren’t way above it. “Added sugar,” by the way, is defined as including “all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods such as breads, cakes, soft drinks, jams, chocolates, and ice cream, and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table.”

The study breaks down differences in “added sugar” consumption across a variety of demographics. The one I think is perhaps most relevant to yoga in the West is this one: the highest income men and women both consumed the least amount of “added sugar.” I tend to think of them as being the most likely to practice yoga.

So what can we take from this? Well, one of our hobby horses: the evils of processed foods. Have you looked lately at what’s in what you eat? Even in stuff you buy that claims to be healthy? Well before we went raw, and certainly before we cut out wheat (as the occasional “fall of the wagon” food), we had limited our sugar intake a lot. We were surprised, years back, to discover how much sugar is in something like jarred pasta sauce. Or peanut butter. Or that “nature bar.” Foods you don’t think of as “sweet” often have sugar in them. (Or salt. Or fat.)

It’s sort of how big food companies have been successful.

Thus I think “hidden sugar” might be a fair way to described “added sugar.”

Posted by Steve

Yogi diet: The problem with moderation

Bobbie and I have been a bit quiet on the raw / wheat-free diet front lately, but we are still going strong — probably even a bit stronger during the past month or so.

Corn meal crust pizza

We continue to get every cent’s worth from our Vita-Mix and the only bread we’ve had has been baked in our house (from flour we’ve ground) and made from heritage grains.

But that isn’t really where I think the “improvement” has come. I wish it were — because I’m a bit worried about the real source.

As extreme as our diet is, we’ve always considered it to be moderated by a meal or two during the weekend when we “fall off the wagon.” It might be pizza. Or Mexican food. Or something involving wheat and bread.

It was enough to keep us on the path of moderation.

Disturbingly, to me at least, is that these “falls” have been less frequent for the past month or more. The solid Cuban sandwich place that we can walk to? It’s off the list. It just isn’t worth the wheat intake and the after-effects — we can feel the weight of what we’ve consumed.

More and more places are joining it. In other words, fewer and fewer places are worth the consequences.

So much for moderation.

And this, it strikes me, might be the problem with moderation — it can moderate you to an extreme. We’ve had fewer “bad meals” lately, and so when we do we really can tell. We feel it. And as a result, we really don’t want to feel that way. And so instead of pizza we buy a corn meal crust and build our own pseudo-pie.

But I don’t want pseudo-pie. I want the pizza one gets in Italy, that’s so thin and covered with olive oil and the right amount of cheese and sauce…

Except, I don’t now.

And I’m not sure I like this development. Is the yoga (and the knowledge of how our Western food affects us) now making my life better, or worse? If it is worse, am I missing the point — or have I lost the point?

By the way, we recognize that our diet isn’t sattvic (and there’s way too much vegetables), but what we’ve learned about the food we get — whole grains included — makes it clear that not very much of the American/Western diet is.

Posted by Steve

Yogi diet: Is soy the reason for those few extra pounds?

Tim Miller has a gentle way of suggesting a person could use a pound or two.

He always brings out the Guruji voice, which is disarming to begin with. And it always has to do with the ability to get into a pose (usually a twist):

“Ah… some reducing is necessary.”

Now, I’ll go so far as to say that I don’t think Bobbie nor I need much reducing. Wait, let’s take a few steps back. Two months or so ago, I would not have said that Bobbie or I needed much reducing.

Now, fast forward to today, and what do we find. We’ve both lost somewhere in the neighborhood of five to seven percent of our weight. (I.e. a low of 5 pounds if you weighed 100 to a high of 14 pounds if you weighed 200. Neither of us was at those extremes.) It’s a fair amount of weight, especially given — as I just mentioned — that I don’t think we were carrying a lot extra.

Or so I thought. Why else would the weight drop?

Those of you who have read earlier posts are, I hope, jumping immediately to one answer: “No wheat!”

Yes, as we’ve been chronicling, we’ve cut wheat from our diet. And the weight loss has continued during that.

But here’s the curious thing: It had started before we cut wheat out. When I weighed myself within the first 24 hours of cutting wheat, I was down already at least half of the weight loss. So… it seems like it was something else.

Over the weekend, Bobbie and I think we figured out what had changed: We’d cut way back on soy, particularly in the form of soy milk. And, just as an offshoot of the no wheat diet, that lack of soy milk has continued. (Mainly, less cereal, plus the ongoing switch to water- and vegetable-based smoothies, rather than fruit- and soy milk-based ones.)

Well, a little checking — and we haven’t done anything even close to exhaustive — suggests that humans don’t break down soy very well. Like seemingly everything, maybe soy isn’t so great for you after all. (Sound familiar, wheat?)

Now, do we represent some kind of scientifically valid study? Not even. But it definitely seems like soy is the X factor in our weight loss.

So, if you were thinking about whether you should cut soy out, I’m just saying… it might be worth a try. And if you have do this, did you experience the same result?

Posted by Steve

What your yoga mat and the McRib sandwich have in common

Have you ever fallen on your face during crow pose or Bujapidasana? Did you come up with a bruised ego but also a desire to race over to the nearest McDonald’s?

Turns out there is a reason for that.

According to the Time magazine healthblog, “Healthland,” the McRib sandwich — back in McDonald’s now, if you have managed to avoid the advertising and stories — contains azodicarbonamide among its 70 ingredients, 34 in just the bun.

Now, azodicarbonamide is not a fancy, scientific word for “healthy vitamin.”

It turns out azodicarbonamide is a “flour-bleaching agent that is most commonly used in the manufacture of foamed plastics like in gym mats and the soles of shoes.”

Gym mat = yoga mat.

Did I just ruin your appetite?

UPDATE, Nov. 4: The Humane Society has accused the provider of the pork in the McRib of subjecting its pigs to cruel living conditions. It has filed a complaint with the SEC. The company, Smithfield Foods Inc., said in a statement that the “allegations are wholly without merit and appear to be another in a series of frivolous attacks.”  It says 30% of its sows will be in group housing by year’s end.

Link to the complaint right here.

Posted by Steve