Sadly, Pacific Islanders in general have become some of the fattest folks on Earth as well as leading in the race to become the most diabetic (Type-2) people on the planet. Most of them already dropped their native diets and adopted Western eating habits some 30 or 40 years ago, so a return to eating more of their traditional food is to be applauded.
Coca Cola on the other hand are continuing to follow the route pioneered in the world of ‘nutritionism’ and have set out to ‘improve’ one of nature’s gifts, fresh milk. They have lowered the fat content, increased the protein content by 50%, added 30% more calcium, decreased the amount of lactose while adding lactase so they can make it lactose-free and in so doing, have also doubled the price.
Oh – and this tinkering with Mother Nature has also helped extend the Fairlife milk product’s shelf life to 90 days!
It is ironic that because we now believe that the constituent parts, those micro and macro-nutrients found in what we eat, are more important than whether it is fresh or natural, we will probably buy this new 'improved' milk in droves. Many of us will be convinced that our children’s health will be all the better for it so it's no wonder that Fairlife's CEO Steve Jones said to Time magazine; "I hope it's Coke's next billion-dollar brand."
This is the true impact of 'nutritionism'; an approach which has led to a focus on criteria that make it easier for industrial concerns to develop packaged food that appears to be healthy, to the detriment of fresh and minimally processed foods.
One thing is for sure. It is unlikely that Coca Colas’s new range of Kid’s ‘healthier’ milk will be found any time soon in that remote part of the South Pacific.
For reference: the 10 most obese places in the world
London Gatwick arrivals Hall; not my favourite holiday destination but there I was, at 7:15 a.m., waiting patiently at the North Terminal to greet my cousin Frances who was arriving from Toronto Canada.
Yes the plane was delayed... but only by 25 minutes, so what with baggage clearance and the longer passport procedures which now seem inevitable when entering the UK, I had a little over one hour to wait.
It was still dark outside on this frosty morning and as I went in search of a warming morning beverage, my prime candidates were Costa Coffee with two locations on two levels and Jamie Oliver's Italian coffee venture upstairs in the Departure Hall.
So I decided to try Jamie's and my cappuccino was… how can I put it?…OK. Prepared as the Brits seem to like it with much too much milk (a latte by any other name…), the hot milky drink was frothed nicely with highly visible Yeo Valley organic milk, but sadly, served in its semi-skimmed variety.
I requested a regular milk option (or as my niece likes to say, a 'full-fat' version) but disappointingly, the helpful ‘barista’ advised me that soy milk was the only other option... but that's another story.
Plainly disappointing is that Jamie's Coffee shop pushes all the usual sweet and starchy cakes and snacks beloved by coffee franchise operations across the UK for their high profitability. Given Jamie Oliver's anti-sugar stance, I was initially surprised but there again, given his lack of acceptance of the role played by refined carbs in Insulin Resistance, I suppose the extensive choice of cakes, crisps, sandwiches and wraps on offer should not have surprised me. As mentioned before, Jamie is in need of better and more up-to-date advice on the role of refined carbs in the blood sugar/insulin cycle… but that’s yet another story.
Everyone sells refined carbs
Speaking of snacks, food-to-go can be found everywhere in the surrounding franchised operations whatever their primary reason for existance may be. The mis-named London News Company extends much more space to soft drinks and packaged carbs in all their forms than to newspapers and magazines and Boots the Chemist has a whole wall dedicated to soft drinks, sandwiches and sugary snacks. I wonder... Do they suspect that people buying their refined carb snacks at a pharmacy will consider them healthier?
Marks and Spencer feature a more up-market choice around their sandwich counter and as for Costa Coffee, they currently feature the most decadent array of sweet Christmassy cakes, buns and mince pies at the front of their store.
At least the pizza, pasta and burger joints are missing - they're all in the Departures Hall.
A low-carb goal for 2017
Should you want a genuine healthier alternative, it would be very, very hard to find any low-carb snacks or meals here, but the good news (for me) was that I didn’t face this dilemma. Did I come prepared? No, I was simply not hungry.
And the bad news? Well this is more of a big-picture comment. This airport experience was a further reminder of just how deeply ingrained our sugary, starchy eating and drinking habits have become, and how much environmental and cultural change will be needed to change things for the better.
The anecdote of how long it takes to slow down an ocean liner before she can gradually change course reminds me that in spite of our heightened awareness on the subject of reducing sugar levels (as demonstrated by Costa Coffee’s new addition to their website http://www.costa.co.uk/nutrition), we have not as yet even begun to put on the sea brakes, let alone genuinely change course.
So; thinking positively about the New Year, let’s make 'increased awareness', aka 'putting on the brakes' our low-carb goal for 2017; and then maybe in 2018, we can slowly begin to turn this very large, high-carb ship around.
A provocative title but... can you really make a disease disappear? Is Dr Rangan Chatterjee a magician?
No, he is not - as he explains at the start of this informative and moving presentation - but he believes he can tackle the root causes of many chronic diseases, from depression to Alzheimer's, and effectively make them go away.
Rangan Chatterjee wants to change the way we look at illness and how medicine is practiced for the future. His groundbreaking BBC TV show, Doctor In The House, gained him much acclaim from patients, his contemporaries and the media, and in this Tedx talk, he gets personal.
"Our genes load the gun, but it's our environment that pulls the trigger", he says.
"Type 2 is a blood sugar problem... but it's not. It's only a symptom, so we need to treat the root cause."
In this compelling talk, Dr Chatterjee shows that what Americans would call a holistic approach can reverse the path of many chronic diseases. I once questioned him on the use of this word holistic, which in the UK sounds a bit out-there. He prefers to speak of a 360 degree approach to health but there's no simple expression for what he advocates other than by comparison to what it is not.
Perhaps a holistic approach is better described as being "curative" (problem oriented) or "etiological", rather than "palliative" which is symptom oriented.
Did I hear you saying: "Whatever?" OK - here's my analogy: In the world of business, we sometimes borrow the medical term when we seek out a cure for our problems; put differently, we try to get ahead of the curve by looking for a 'curative' solution.
So let's support Dr Chatterjee's sensible and cost-effective curative approach by spreading the word and showing this video to many others.
"Our genes load the gun, but it's our environment that pulls the trigger"
Last month, I went to a relatively poor part of Southern Sicily, staying in a hillside town located near the stunning temples that dominate the hills South of Agrigento. These well preserved Greek temples provide a stark contrast to the concrete apartment blocks which now surround modern day Agrigento – once the important city state of Akrigas.
The small, medieval town of Naro, perched on a dominating hilltop easily accommodates its 7,000 inhabitants, down from a population four times that size 50 years ago. As an agricultural centre, work is at a premium and many younger people have drifted off to the cities or to work abroad. An influx of workers from Eastern Europe, mostly Rumanian, helps meet seasonal demand from the grape, olive and citrus fruit growers while the surprisingly lively cattle sector (doesn’t fit my Med Diet stereotype!) needs few employees.
The Castello di Chiaramonte at the town’s summit, reveals a vista of fertile land marked by rich, dark soil and crops extending in all directions. The only blight on the magnificent distant views of Mount Etna comes from elevated poly-tunnels, used to prolong the sales season for their slow-ripening grapes.
Here surely, in these agriculturally rich hills with distant sea views, I would find many elements of the famous Mediterranean diet.
Where to eat out in Naro?
With the exception of one local ‘traditional’ restaurant and the two Agriturismo on the road North-East to Canicatti, the only places to eat out are now all branded as ‘Pizzeria’. I counted 8 in total and while there’s also a McDonalds and a KFC on the coastal road, that’s a discussion I’ll leave for now.
In these Pizzerias, you can observe the younger diners eating mostly pizza or pasta dishes. Families though enjoy mixed antipasti of olives, cheese, salami, ham and octopus, but I watched in amazement as their younger kids were given French Fries and deep-fried arancini (tasty deep-fried rice balls)… followed by pizza.
I must admit… the pizzas taste great, being made from local durum wheat, cooked to perfection in wood-burning ovens and providing simple fast food.
There is one small restaurant up the hill, famous for its offal and specializing in traditional dishes, but on the occasion I ate there, the average age was decidedly elevated! The meal was excellent though.
Being also lucky enough to be invited to one home-cooked meal, I dined on sliced meats, tomatoes and cheeses, a delicious sardine and spaghetti pasta dish followed by roast veal in a tasty gravy. No vegetables were served but they assured me that seasonal veg are served with the antipasti from time to time.
… Or you can eat in.
In Naro, there are three small ‘supermarkets’ each possessing tiny entrances yet providing Aladdin’s Cave like space on the inside; Dr.Who’s Tardis provides a fitting analogy. Apart from the weekly Thursday morning market, these provide the main opportunities to purchase dry goods, liquids and freshly sliced ham, salami and cheeses.
Much of what you will find there is similar to any general goods store across Europe. Nestle seem to be the main supplier and low-fat options are the norm when it comes to milk, yogurt and pre-packaged desserts. I had to drive into Agrigento to buy regular milk and yogurt. It’s all too easy to imagine how after pigging out on pizza and pasta, younger purchasers then select a low-fat option to snack on… but I digress.
Two or three bakers and butchers complete the shopping selection with open air market stands providing fresh local vegetables and fruits. One day when preparing a ragu sauce, I purchased meat from the butcher before he minced it as a matter of course. His fresh sausages were also wonderful on the BBQ.
Access to fish is limited, but the market provides a weekly opportunity to buy fresh shellfish and octopus; I also bought the fresh sardines on display. Tuna is available in May and June (when the fish migrate past the Southern coastline) but apparently, it’s a short season and most quality fish gets sold on the export market.
The bread is good, predominantly made like pasta from Sicilian durum wheat. On the occasions when I ate it, my digestion did not suffer – a testament to the quality of the ingredients and the naturally leavened approach used locally.
Where did this leave me?
In Sicily, I observed a growing generational divide between a modified Western style approach to eating and older traditional values. This is impacted by our Western Dietary Guidelines which certainly influence the availability and choice of processed and packaged food, but as lifestyles change, 'eating' is speeding up.
The younger people I spoke to are still proud of their culinary heritage, they just don’t choose to eat that way most days, except at family get-togethers. Funnily enough, they eat more and more like the tourists whose diet of high-carb pizzas and pasta provides an affordable way to feed families on holiday.
If we just managed to get rid of our current high-carb, low-fat guidelines, we would at least remind them why their diet used to be so good.
An open letter
Dear Mr Average:
I know you don’t exist. The ‘average’ British citizen is only the sum total of what all Brits do divided by the total population. And yet I suspect that there are enough of you out there who fit the bell curve statistic, which indicates that 30-50% only vary in small ways from that average. So please forgive my impertinence and allow this small interruption in your eating life.
You see: The conventional dietary/nutrition establishment would have you believe that you eat too much, particularly those nasty animal fats, and that you probably don’t exercise enough. That’s why over the years, if you are indeed an ‘average’ Brit, you have steadily been putting on the pounds; and as you'll know, increased weight is associated with various chronic diseases, notably certain cancers, Alzheimer’s and type-2 diabetes.
To counter this, you may well have been prescribed fitness programmes and were probably also told to drink fat-free milk, eat less red meat but more chicken, use more vegetable oils and above all, avoid bacon and salt. This message started about 40 years ago and was officially formalized in the first UK food guidelines that were issued over 20 years ago.
Now, the British public is not usually seen as being a pushover, a nation peopled by those who unquestionably do just what they are told. But in this case, the funny thing is – well it’s not at all funny really; that is exactly what you’ve done. As obedient citizens, you have followed the dietary guidelines and as an unintended consequence, you are getting fatter and ‘iller’, if that word exists. Some bad joke!
The real and surprising facts are:
1/ You eat less food in total than you did 40 years ago – not more.
2/ You eat much less of that bad beef, lamb and pork.
3/ You eat much, much more ‘healthy’ white meat (chicken).
4/ You have cut right back on butter and cheese.
5/ You eat much less bacon and ham.
6/ You have almost stopped drinking regular milk because it’s full of saturated fat which clogs your arteries …and, and, and.
7/ You’ve even cut back on salt
Yet incidences of diabetes and cancers continue to be on the rise, as is dementia which an increasing number of doctors refer to as type-3 diabetes. And, incidentally, the mortality statistics for heart disease and strokes have barely changed in recent years.
“But aren’t we all just living longer so that disease is inevitably catching up with us?” I hear you say. Well, no. The highest prevalence of diabetes is with overweight 15-54 year olds, not among the oldest in our society. Something is making us ‘iller’, younger.
Less meat, less dairy, less fat but more chronic disease?
Since 1974, beef sales per person per week have almost halved to around 100 grams, and that’s down from 250 grams in post-war Britain (1950). Lamb and mutton sales are down by over two-thirds and as for milk, you’ve fundamentally changed your habits because of that fear of fat imposed by the so-called nutrition experts. The same change which has led you to believe that drinking semi-skimmed milk is quite normal, is also reflected in lower butter and cheese sales and your decision to switch from cooking with animal fats to using vegetable and seed oils.
So called ‘healthy’ white meat in the form of chicken has exploded onto the scene with intensively (mostly) produced birds providing your main source of meat at 300 grams per week in all its many forms from Sunday roasts to chicken nuggets. Compare that to 1950 when you (or your parents or grandparents) used to eat around 19 grams of chicken per week.
The real problem is staring you in the face
Highly processed foods in the form of ready meals and snacks have completely changed how you eat and together with take-away food, they now represent around half of what you eat. Along with the huge increase in vegetable seed oils such as sunflower, corn and soy, they represent what has changed most in your diet and… to be frank, it’s not doing you any good.
The decline in family meals certainly plays a role as does your desire to eat regular snacks which is now seen as normal. Long gone are the times when at about 3 pm in the afternoon, the office tea-lady would wheel round a cuppa and a piece of home-made fruit cake for that once daily snacking opportunity!
More recently of course, sugar has begun to get a bad rap and in larger doses, it certainly is not good for you. But only when sugar is combined with all those artificial sweeteners, stabilizers, emulsifiers and flavour-enhancers before being made into ready-made meals, soft drinks and snacks do you run into real problems. Grandma’s home-made jams, cakes and crumbles may have used some sugar but first, they represented occasional treats, and second, they brought out the best of nature’s natural bounty.
Where can I get sensible, fact-based advice?
There is help at hand. The Public Health Collaboration has been established by a group of doctors and well-informed nutritionists with their feet firmly placed on the ground, and their sensible advice on how to eat and what to eat is available at www.phcuk.org. They also provide links to where you can get the best advice if you are either over-weight or suffering from the early stages of type-2 diabetes.
Although those well-meaning folks who designed the original food guidelines and current Eatwell Plates meant no harm, they did not fully check their facts or examine the research back to its origins. The PHCUK members have come to understand that you are not getting ‘iller’ because you don’t follow the guidelines. It is much more likely that you are less healthy precisely because you have been following the guidelines.
Next annual update due soon: Dec 2016
Dr David Ludwig seems to be the only one at Harvard who supports and actively encourages low-carb, high fat diets.
Those of us who have either personally experienced the benefits of a low-carb, high-fat lifestyle, or have seen its amazing effect on others continue to be baffled by the stream of ‘conventional wisdom’ which emanates from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University.
One voice providing a notable exception to that is Dr David Ludwig, an eminent Professor within that same department. He clearly leans in the higher fat, lower carb direction and yet in its PR releases, the Harvard news-team still tries to project an image of harmony and agreement which collectively supports establishment thinking.
Although he is featured in the lead photo discussing a ‘common ground in nutrition’ on the Harvard website, he notably did not form part of the group which gave ‘strong, collective support’ to the Recommendations of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee. In fact, not only was he absent from the Scientific Consensus Committee co-chaired by his ‘boss’, Walter Willett and Yale University’s David Katz, but he also was not one of the 9 additional signatories.
Dr Ludwig believes that traditional advice such as “Eat less, move more” is doomed to failure and in a recent interview with Experience Life magazine, he expressed his opinions about low-carb diets which over time, seem to be hardening in their conviction.
Beginning with a definition, he says that to be truly classified as a low-carb diet, you need to get to around the 20% level, in terms of total calorific input or just below. This is in stark contrast with the current US (and UK) average of between 55 - 60%. Simply counting calories and cutting back on protein, carbohydrate and fat at the same time makes no sense to him. In fact, it’s epitomized by the yo-yo dieting so many people experience with Weight-Watcher style approaches, as a battle develops between your mind and your metabolism.
He suggests that your starting point should be to consider the hormonal and metabolic effects of food. When you take that approach, you don’t count calories and go about things differently.
Insulin is in many ways the master hormone and given the direct impact of carbohydrates on insulin levels, Dr Ludwig believes that is the best place to start lowering food intake. And because fats and protein stimulate the ‘satiety’ hormone ghrelin, that means you don’t go hungry. Interestingly, he refers to type-2 diabetes which is being increasingly seen as a disease of carbohydrate intolerance, as the ultimate metabolic breakdown!
In the latest issue of Time Magazine, Dr Ludwig is even more direct:
“Like a cattle rancher, insulin herds sugar and the other calories from your meal into storage, which usually means your fat cells. This not only promotes weight gain, but it also tricks your body into believing you need more energy to satisfy your body’s needs, which in turn causes your hunger to rebound rapidly. If you also happen to be on a low-fat diet high in processed foods, all of this is intensified” Ludwig says.
At this stage, I will note that research also supports the widely held opinion that semi-starvation diets (also known as calorie-controlled diets) lead in most cases to that famous yo-yo effect. Infamously, most participants in the US Reality TV series, The Biggest Loser, found that their metabolism worked more slowly after their intense dieting. As a result, they had to continue their lives while eating less (effectively having a permanent feeling of hunger) or put on weight… which they invariable did. It is very sad to note that a number of successful contestants even weigh more now than when they started on their ultra-aggressive, calorie controlled diets.
But back to Dr Ludwig; as many readers will know, the ultra-efficient weight loss approach if you are low-carbing is known as going ‘ketogenic’ where you get as close to zero carbs as possible and your body uses body fat as its prime source of energy. It works for many, but Dr Ludwig states that dropping to 20% carbs will also bring many health and weight-loss benefits. He reminds us that an important principle of modern biology is that going 50% of the way usually brings 90% of the benefits.
Dropping to 20% carb intake or below invariably means cutting out all junk food since carbohydrates are their major ingredient. From personal experience, I can add that bread in all its forms was the most difficult ‘junk-food’ for me to avoid; for many others it is sugar, often hidden and named in ways which make it difficult to spot.
For those wanting to lose weight, I highly recommend the informative and inspirational website dietdoctor.com which cites many positive examples. Dr Ludwig’s book ‘Always Hungry?’ also provides a great introduction to this subject matter and the Experience Life video interview is well worth watching.
As for Harvard and Walter Willett, he is still adamantly against red meat although in recent years, he has moved on from being the leading spokesperson for the olive oil industry to embracing the possible benefits of regular milk as opposed to the tasteless low or no-fat versions. That being said, he’s hedging his bets and in the New Scientist earlier this year, is quoted as saying: “The picture of dairy foods and health is complicated and deserves further study”, which I guess nicely sums up much of what we genuinely know about nutrition today.
The Oldways Common Ground Consensus: http://oldwayspt.org/programs/oldways-common-ground/oldways-common-ground-consensus
Dr Ludwig’s interview with Experience Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFHtNe0jEg4
Israel has an enormous diabetes problem, being ranked second only to Mexico among all OECD countries with its mortality rate for type-2 diabetes, for both men and women. And more than 50% of Israelis are overweight or obese. So much for the famous Mediterranean diet… at least in that South-Eastern corner!
In a search for solutions, the country's health minister has recently targeted McDonald’s as the country’s leading purveyor of junk-food. Yet McDonalds has arguably been doing everything right to improve their fast-food offer and the company takes great exception to being addressed as a seller of ‘junk-food’.
Recent advertisements from McDonald’s in the Israeli press declare that the fast-food chain has made changes to its menu worldwide in recent years. Specifically in Israel, they have:
But McDonald’s is particularly incensed about the ‘junk-food’ label and that’s why it has now challenged the Israeli Health Minister to develop a precise junk-food definition that uses nutritional criteria such as: calories, fats, carbohydrates, sugars, sodium, cholesterol, protein, fiber, fruits and vegetables per 100 grams - all with the intention of showing that it's food offering does not count as junk-food.
Whatever you may think of McDonald’s, the chain has set high standards of food hygiene and adapts regularly to the published nutrition rules and guidelines. In the early 1990’s, they famously stopped using beef tallow for their French fries, adopting trans-fat heavy vegetable oils to be consistent with the new (now thankfully amended) US government guidelines.
In national ads, McDonald's accuses the authorities of using slogans and not facts.
So what precisely is "junk-food"? It generally refers to foods that contribute lots of calories but little nutritional value and is often associated with high levels of saturated fat, sugar and salt… precisely those ingredients which McDonald’s has cut back on in Israel. For general purposes though, I am reminded of the expression used by the late US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who, when defining pornography replied: "I know it when I see it".
Although there is no official definition, most of us would agree on what junk-food is and what it looks like. Or would we?
Depending on where you live, the nutritional information on your food labels usually lists calories per serving together with grams of fat, salt, cholesterol and sugar content, sometimes including a macro-nutrient list and a percentage of fibre. But does that provide enough scope to help define junk food accurately?
I doubt it; because in reality, junk-food should also be defined by the use of preservatives, emulsifiers and stabilizers to add consistency, taste and shelf life to pre-prepared and packaged products. To my mind, fry-ups that use industrially manufactured vegetable seed oils should be added to the list of criteria… and I’m sure there are many other plausible junk-food ‘ingredients’.
But getting nutritionists to agree on a definition might be difficult; particularly with wildly opposing views on the alleged benefits of low-fat dairy and/or the digestive dangers of cereal-based breads. In fact that’s why McDonald's can effectively call the bluff of the Israeli Health Minister. No one can define junk-food.
Using available definitions today; the global hamburger chain is quite possibly not a purveyor of junk-food at all. The words from their recent national newspaper ad read: "When unhealthy food is defined scientifically and not according to slogans, you will be able to prove that McDonald's Israel is the exact opposite of junk food."
The Israeli health ministry's spokeswoman, Einav Shimron Greenbaum, is reported as saying: " ...that no country's nutritional board has issued a scientific definition of junk food". But Israel does have a position paper against eating fast-food, described as: "food that is eaten in 7-10 minutes without fork and knife, needs little chewing, and makes the eater feel satiated only after 20 minutes, pushing the eater to consume more".
Yet if you are beginning to sympathise with the views expressed by McDonald's, please bear in mind that McDonald’s burger buns are listed as containing:
“Enriched Bleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Yeast, Soybean Oil, Contains 2% or Less: Salt, Wheat Gluten, Leavening (Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate), May Contain One or More Dough Conditioners (Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Mono and Diglycerides, Monocalcium Phosphate, Enzymes, Calcium Peroxide), Calcium Propionate (Preservative).”
And let’s also remember that only about 50% of a McDonald’s chicken nugget is actually made of chicken, the balance being made up of:
“Water, Food Starch-Modified, Salt, Seasoning (Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Salt, Wheat Starch, Natural Flavoring, Safflower Oil, Dextrose, Citric Acid), Sodium Phosphates, Natural Flavor. Battered and Breaded with: Water, Enriched Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Yellow Corn Flour, Bleached Wheat Flour, Food Starch-Modified, Salt, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Lactate), Spices, Wheat Starch, Dextrose, Corn Starch.” Then fried in: “Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil) with TBHQ and Citric Acid to preserve freshness of the oil and Dimethylpolysiloxane to reduce oil splatter when cooking”.
But do these lists of ingredients push such items into the junk-food category? Maybe they don't. And probably they won't …at least, not until we have a better universal definition of what junk-food really is, taking us away from the usual culprits - salt, sugar and saturated fat. That overly simplistic focus only helps the industrial food machine adapt and gear up for more business.
The Daily Mail is always good for a ‘healthy’ headline and today, it’s the turn of research scientist Seungyoun Jung who suggests that:
“Consuming high amounts of saturated fat or low amounts of mono and polyunsaturated fats (vegetable and vegetable seed oils) as an adolescent is associated with higher breast density in young adulthood”
I don’t personally know Seungyoun Jung, but I do know that he got his Masters degree at the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology in 2008 and went on to get his Doctorate in 2012 in the famous Department of Nutrition. And – here is my mental jump - we all know that Harvard has a history of promoting research which advocates the benefits of vegetable oil.
Well, Dr Seungyoun Jung’s latest research is no exception, albeit, it now comes from his current location, the University of Maryland… a bit further South.
Statistically, his results are not very significant. Even he admits that “The 5 to 6 percentage point difference is relatively modest” but he goes on to say that this is enough to “increase breast cancer risk as well as promoting obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease." Now where have we heard these kind of sweeping associative comments before?
… from Dr Willett who heads up the Nutrition department at Harvard, and has been a long-term promoter of the benefits of mono and polyunsaturated industrial seed oils such as those made from corn, sunflower and Canola. His own particular favorite olive oil which he sees as the elixir which brings long-life to the so-called Mediterranean Diet.
Now, I like olive oil too, but as you can read in my book ‘Fat is our Friend’, the hardy inhabitants of Southern Italy, Greece, France and Spain do not have a long history of cooking with olive oil. Until the early part of the 20th century, it was used mostly as a source of relatively smoke-free lamp light and it even fired up olive-oil fuelled furnaces during the cold winters. Besides; when it comes to longevity; the Paris region of France in the North brings you roughly the same life expectancy as you will get in the South, although their diet cannot be really described as Mediterranean. Nor can that of the Northern Germans who get similar results when it comes to lifespan… but putting that to one side.
Here’s the thing: Dr Jung’s comments only report on the ‘fatty’ Harvard agenda, but the rest of the world is moving on. The large proportion of starches and sugars combined with stabilizers, colorants and emulsifiers found in junk food are seen elsewhere as major areas of concern. Indeed, according to Jung, “one of the main limitations of the study is that the researchers were unable to rule out whether the significant associations observed for fat consumption during adolescence were attributable to other components in foods that are good sources of different types of fat”.
Fat? Why does he only talk about fat? What about those other major components of junk food? The reality is that Dr Jung’s research results do not specifically address the subject of fat, since sugar and the overall content of highly processed carbs were also a major part (probably the biggest) of that so-called fat-rich diet.
So can we ascertain anything from his results? Almost certainly, they mean that those who eat a lot of highly processed junk food when they are young have a higher propensity to have denser breast tissue as they age… which may be associated with a higher risk of cancer. Or not.
Even that association is in question. According to a study published on August 20 2012 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the risk of dying from breast cancer is not even related to high mammographic breast density in breast cancer patients. The researchers wrote that; "It is reassuring that elevated breast density, a prevalent and strong breast cancer risk factor, was not associated with risk of breast cancer death or death from any cause in this large, prospective study.”
Harvard's long arm
But the Harvard nutrition establishment has long arms and attempts to push through its agenda of condemning saturated fat whatever the real facts. Getting Daily Mail type headlines that frighten people off consuming butter and cream is part of that agenda.
Harvard already has egg on its face after backtracking on the cholesterol/ diet link. As recently as May 2013, the Harvard guidance was: “No matter what your health condition, talk to your doctor before adding eggs back into your daily diet.”
How long before those at the Harvard Nutrition Department also must accept that however hard they try to prove otherwise, natural saturated fats such as lard, butter and coconut oil are indeed the healthier option. And much, much healthier than the industrially prepared poly-unsaturated oils which they advocate.
In 1999, a study authored by Prof Nicholas Wald was released entitled: Why heart disease mortality is low in France: the time lag explanation. The study has been widely cited – 23 times alone via PMC in the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine – and at the time, it received a lot of press coverage.
To put it gently, their grounded hypothesis that deaths from heart disease were about to increase rapidly in France did not pan out.
He and Dr Malcolm Law explained how mortality from ischaemic heart disease in France was just one quarter of that in Britain by discounting the much-touted rumour that this was because of greater red wine consumption. They postulated instead that for the French, it was simply a matter of time before they caught up with the British, putting the difference down to the following:
“It is due to the time lag between increases in consumption of animal fat and serum cholesterol concentrations and the resulting increase in mortality from heart disease.”
“Evidence”, they wrote “supports this explanation. Mortality from heart disease across countries, including France, correlates strongly with levels of animal fat consumption and serum cholesterol in the past (30 years ago) but only weakly to recent levels. Based on past levels, mortality data for France are not discrepant”.
So convinced were they of the animal fat/cholesterol linkage that they continued with the 'good news' that: “while the consumption of animal fat leads to a slow increase in the risk of mortality from heart disease, these risks decrease rapidly upon switching to a healthier diet and lifestyle."
And yet… the trouble is, it’s now 2016 and the most recent charts show further decline everywhere, with France (together with Japan) being right down at the bottom of the list… still! Why has France not climbed to American levels as they predicted?
Professor Wald is clearly a distinguished scholar, having gone on to become a member of the Royal Society and been knighted, but I cannot find any retraction of this research, which is typical of many studies that have influenced the low fat era in which we still live.
On such important topics, should we not have a system whereby original authors comment on what they wrote many years ago, particularly when things have not quite worked out quite as they predicted? And when it comes to France, isn’t it time for some official bodies to admit they have been wrong and that the French paradox is in many ways, a French advantage? Then we could officially begin to debate what that advantage is… Hint: It’s not the Mediterranean Diet.
Research quoted: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1115846/
Arthur Schopenhauer famously said that all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed; second, it is violently opposed, and third; it is accepted as being self-evident.
Back in 2009 as the above article from the New York Daily News shows, eating butter was still being ridiculed and a mix of poor research and industry lobbying was keen to keep things that way.
I suspect that now, when it comes to eating butter, we have left that phase but are still somewhere in the second phase of acceptance – for butter will, over time, surely be found to have been heart and cancer healthy all along. Yet the leading luminaries of the nutrition world oppose butter and still prefer ‘marge’, as long as the trans-fats have been removed.
Walter Willett, Chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health admits that as a physician back in the 1980's, he was telling people that they should replace butter with margarine because it was cholesterol free. Today he’s shifted his position a little: he imagines a spectrum ranging from super healthy foods such as blueberries to toxic ones (like a 20-oz Coke, he says) and would put butter “close to the middle, but maybe a little closer to the Coke”.
Dr. David Katz, Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center still “avoids butter, opting instead for olive oil.”
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of the School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University says there is “No evidence it’s good for you, yet little evidence for major harm.” A not very subtle put-down.
Dr David Ludwig also of Harvard is a little more positive with: “The next time you eat a piece of buttered toast, consider that butter is actually the more healthful component.”
Butter is after all about 50% saturated fat and there the Harvard scholars feel even more sure of their findings. Frank Hu professor of nutrition and epidemiology says “In terms of heart disease risk, saturated fat and refined carbohydrates appear to be similarly unhealthful.” Pretty damning; And a fellow Harvard researcher, Yanping Li points out: “Dietary recommendations to reduce saturated fats should specify their replacement with unsaturated fats (such as vegetable oils) or with healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains.”
For now, butter sales are slowly rising so consumers are voting with their taste buds. But it may be some time before the Harvard team in particular, staunch supporters incidentally of eating whole grain carbohydrates, remind us that they always knew butter was really good for you. Yet, watch this space: in the world of nutrition, stranger things have taken place.
"FAT IS OUR FRIEND" ADVOCATES A DIET:
Sammy Pepys was the pseudonym used by James Capon when writing this book. He is not a doctor or a nutritionist but has studied nutrition and holds an MPH from Edinburgh University. Over the years, he has become increasingly suspicious of today's conventional wisdom about diet and health. When it comes to what we eat, he has helped many learn to eat more healthily.