Scientific Studies

Are Low-Carb Diets Killing Sweden? (Also: New Interviews and Raw Vegan Immortality)

I’m occasionally stricken by a wave of crippling, all-consuming terror. Sometimes it’s because I can’t find my wallet. Sometimes it’s because I hear the unmistakable sound of Smitty throwing up on my bed. Sometimes it’s because I take a few wrong turns on Youtube and accidentally learn what Piccinini animal-human hybrids are (what is seen cannot be unseen). But these days, it’s usually because I’ve looked at the calendar and realized that—along with being 25 and really old now—I haven’t posted anything on this blog in almost four months.

What madness!

As most of you probably know, I’ve been chugging away on an upcoming book called “Death By Food Pyramid,” which is the main reason Raw Food SOS has been hosting more tumbleweeds than blog entries lately. Thanks to finding some unexpected political shenanigans to investigate (which I’m really excited to tell you guys about), the release date for “Death By Food Pyramid” is now September 2013. More details to come.

Earlier this month, I recorded an interview that touches upon the USDA’s seamy, pyramid-shaped underbelly (mostly in the second half):

I’ll be writing more about the book soon (and resuming my previous rapid-blogging schedule of six posts a year instead of four), but in the meantime, here’s a new installment of Bad Science Du Jour!

(more…)

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The Truth About Ancel Keys: We’ve All Got It Wrong

(Note: This post was inspired by the “Ancel Keys” section in a recent series of paleo-challenging YouTube videos, which I may critique in the future. The anonymous videomaker “Plant Positive” highlighted some important misconceptions about Keys and his research that I’d like to broadcast to a larger audience, but didn’t address some equally important points tangled in the Keys saga, and likewise made some arguments I believe are incomplete or misleading. This blog post is an attempt to address those misconceptions in a more balanced and thorough way, and provide a broader context for how we view the infamous Mr. Keys.)

This is one of those “gotta bust me some myths no matter where they come from” blog posts. And by that, I mean I’m about to challenge a story that’s been so well-circulated among paleo, low carb, and real-food communities that most of us have filed it away in a little brain-folder called “Things We Never Have to Question Because They’re So Ridiculously True.”

I’m talking about the late, great Ancel Keys, and his equally late (but maybe not as great) role in the history of heart disease research. The oft-repeated tale goes something like this:

Once upon a time, a scientist named Ancel Keys did an awful thing. He published a study about different countries that made it look like heart disease was associated with fat intake. But the truth was that he started out with 22 countries and just tossed out the ones that didn’t fit his hypothesis! When other researchers analyzed his data using all the original countries, the link between fat and heart disease totally vanished. Keys was a fraud, and he’s the reason my mom made me eat skim milk and Corn Chex for breakfast instead of delicious bacon and eggs. LET HIS SOUL BURN. BURN! BUUUUUURN! (more…)

Fat, Diabetes, and “Sinister Involvement in Wikipedia”

Could it be true? Three blog entries in four weeks, instead of my typical month-long lulls of silence? Has this blog been hijacked by an evil but prolific employee of Minger, Inc.?

Don’t worry; I’ll vanish again soon. I’m mostly here to pass on the link to a guest post I wrote for Mark’s Daily Apple about the “fatty food gives you diabetes!” study that came out this month:

If you read the link above, you’ll notice that a major component of the “high fat” mouse diet was hydrogenated coconut oil. After the article went up on MDA, I got an email from Sally Fallon with some neat background on the role of this ingredient rodent studies:

Just a clarification on fully hydrogenated coconut oil.  This is used in experiments because it is the only fat that can be fully hydrogenated and still be soft enough to eat–because the fatty acids are short.  If you fully hdrogenate lard, it will be hard as a rock, even at room temperature.

Full hydrogenation just produces saturated fatty acids–partial hydrogenation produces trans fats.  So technically fully hydrogenated fats are not such a bad thing, they are just saturated fatty acids (usually esterified with unsaturated fatty acids).  But of course, there will be lots of impurities and chemicals from the processing, so this begs the question of why not just eat regular saturated fats.

Fully hydrogenated coconut oil was developed so researchers could test fatty acid deficiency. . . . not the effects of saturated fats.  If the only fat given to rats or mice is fully hydrogenated coconut oil, researchers can bring on EFA deficiency.  Today most researchers don’t have a clue about what the product was developed for, and fully hydrogenated coconut oil is sold and used in all sorts of experiments that have nothing to do with fatty acid deficiency.

How interesting! Hydrogenated coconut oil is incredibly common in lab diets for rodents, but its original purpose was to induce EFA deficiency—not to represent the effects of saturated fat in the diet. (In the context of this particular study, Chris Masterjohn noted that EFA deficiency probably wasn’t a factor because the mouse diet was supplemented with soybean oil. But it’s good info for future reference, nonetheless.)

Ancestral Health Symposium videos are up!

In case you haven’t seen ’em yet, the presentations from the Ancestral Health Symposium are now viewable on Vimeo. Check ’em out here, and see the accompanying PowerPoint slides here. (My “How to win an argument with a vegetarian” speech is here. In retrospect, especially after reading the comments on an article that summarized my talk, a more appropriate title might’ve been “How to win an argument with a vegetarian who thinks they’re healthier than you because they don’t eat meat, but not with vegetarians who only avoid meat for ethical reasons and think you’re scum no matter what you tell them about health.” Alas.)

As I understand it, the current videos will be edited sometime in the future to incorporate the PowerPoint slides.

AHS, meet WFF.

To balance out the paleo-ness that rocked the West Coast this month, New York just hosted the week-long Woodstock Fruit Festival—essentially the low-fat, raw vegan counterpart of the Ancestral Health Symposium, featuring less beef jerky and a whole lot more durian. Dietary disagreements aside, there seems to be a shared paleo/fruity emphasis on fitness—and after perusing some photos of the event, I noticed at least one person wearing Vibram FiveFingers. Will minimalist footwear be the bridge that unites these rival communities? Only time (and forefoot strikes) will tell.

Sinister Involvement in Wikipedia!

Despite what it may seem, I honestly don’t spend all day refreshing the China Study Wikipedia page, hungrily waiting for drama to emerge. But I do snoop around there whenever I see blog traffic coming from Wikipedia.com, since it usually means someone added my critique and the vegan moderators haven’t yanked it out yet.

Indeed, a wave of Wiki traffic last night led me to a new “Criticism” section with this interesting blurb (that link will probably stop being valid very quickly):

There is some criticism for the book, as well. Dinise Minger has written several times, including her Formal Analysis and Response, about her interpretation of the data presented in the book, and makes the claim that many of the conclusions drawn by Campbell are ill-founded.

I don’t know who Dinise is, but apparently she’s trying to pass this blog off as her own. But that’s not the exciting part. I also checked out the China Study “talk” page and found a paragraph full of impeccable insight and wisdom. I don’t trust things to not magically disappear from Wikipedia, so I took a screen to preserve this epic moment:

If you don’t feel like adding an extra mouse click to your day, here’s the relevant bit; emphasis mine:

Sinister involvement in Wikipedia

I think there is something seriously wrong going on with regard to this article. It has been put up for deletion and has also been marked as relatively unimportant. This is quite surprising, since the book talks about the most important epidemiological study ever undertaken. I hate to be a conspiracy theorist, but there is a deeper issue her [sic] of sinister interests manipulating Wikipedia articles. In particular, in the case of this article, Wikipedia is highly vulnerable to sophisticated manipulation by the pharmaceutical industry and the meat industry. Such anti-vegetarian economic interests may be subtly suppressing this article. —Westwind273 (talk) 21:52, 22 August 2011 (UTC)

Now it all makes sense. The nomination for deletion, the removal of all China-Study-related criticism, the seemingly biased patrolling of vegan moderators… it’s all been carefully orchestrated by the meat industry! Such an elaborate scheme must be financially draining, though. I wonder if that’s why Farmer Bob stopped sending me my checks?

One Year Later: The China Study, Revisited and Re-Bashed

Lest this blog sink further into its eery two-month silence, I think it’s high time for an update!

First item of business: The Ancestral Health Symposium. Due to some serendipitous events, it turns out I’ll be presenting at this hyperventilation-inducingly-awesome event next week. My lecture is at 10:00 AM on August 6th in the Rolfe 1200 auditorium. If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, I hope to see you there, and to verify my existence for anyone who still thinks I’m a meat industry puppet. Otherwise, unless PETA pops in and sets fire to UCLA, all the presentations should be available online for free shortly after the symposium is over. Woohoo!

Second item of business: Now that he’s outed the project himself, I feel safe in announcing that Mark Sisson is going to be publishing the book I mentioned working on in an earlier blog post, and that it’ll be released mid-2012. I’m super excited, and couldn’t ask for a better publisher to work with. Or one with more impressive abs (see link above). More details to come in the near future.

Now on to the real point of this post. (more…)

New Study: Will Omega-3s Boost Your Risk of Prostate Cancer?

Two yesterdays ago, I said I was going to “post this tomorrow.” On one hand, that didn’t happen. On the other hand, a one-day delay is still more timely than usual for me, so I’m counting this as a blogging victory. Whip out the kazoos!

As some of you’ve already seen, a major study came out this week with some unexpected findings about DHA, an omega-3 fat abundant in fish. The study linked high blood levels of DHA to aggressive prostate cancer (and trans fats to lower prostate cancer rates). To date, it’s the biggest fat-and-prostate-cancer study of its kind—which makes these findings all the more peculiar. Given the widespread use of fish oil supplements for quelling inflammation and boosting cardiovascular health, it’s a little spooky to think DHA is really a double-edged sword. But is this study really a slam against fish fat?

This analysis wound up as a guest post for Mark’s Daily Apple, so head over there to read the full thing:

Overall, the study itself isn’t too shabby—and the researchers readily admitted their findings surprised them. But this study is far from a harbinger of doom for seafood lovers. The take-home points, and some additional thoughts:

  • Serum fatty acids aren’t a perfect mirror of diet—and the men with higher levels of DHA weren’t necessarily eating more fish. In fact, it seems low-fat diets can actually increase DHA status in the blood the same way omega-3 supplementation can.
  • The “highest levels of serum DHA” reported here were based on percentage of fatty acids—not absolute value. Here’s a great explanation of why percentage-based measurements may be misleading in studies like these.

Another major study, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, also found a slight (but non-statistically-significant) link between prostate cancer and DHA levels in the bloodbut at the same time, found zero association between dietary fish fat and the disease. And as I wrote in the post on Mark’s Daily Apple, nearly all previous studies have shown fish consumption to have either a neutral or protective association with prostate cancer. Blood levels of DHA and dietary intake don’t seem to follow the same pattern in relation to this disease.

That said: I’m pretty weary of long-term mega-dosing of fish oil for other reasons. Thanks to all their double bonds, omega-3s are relatively unstable and prone to oxidation, just like other polyunsaturated fats. It’s quite possible that the anti-inflammatory benefits appearing short term could eventually collide with a new set of problems that take longer to appear: those stemming from oxidative stress. Moderate supplementation probably won’t cause harm, but regularly taking huge doses of fish oil should probably be done with caution. The best strategy for achieving a great omega-3/omega-6 ratio is reducing your intake of high-omega-6 foods like grains and industrial oils, rather than simply chugging back more omega-3 to compensate.

Edit: Paul at Perfect Health Diet has a more technical discussion of omega-3s, angiogensis, and cancer that does make DHA seem a little fishy. Highly worth reading!

The New USDA Dietary Guidelines: Total Hogwash, and Here’s Why

A few days ago, the USDA finally unveiled their (fashionably late) 2010 dietary guidelines—the first update they’ve made since 2005. Are you as excited as I am? Can we live without bread yet? Leave the fat on our dairy? Ditch the rancid vegetable oils? Gobble down butter and coconut oil without fearing imminent death? By golly, has the USDA finally pulled its head out of the soybean fields and given us something useful, emerging as a reliable authority instead of a food industry puppet?

Nah.

Contrary to my title, though, the new guidelines aren’t total hogwash. Just mostly. A few of their recommendations are passable, like these:

  • Prevent and/or reduce overweight and obesity through improved eating and physical activity behaviors. (Duh.)
  • Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors. (Duh.)
  • Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils. (Duh.)
  • Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium. (Yes!)

Unfortunately, the rest of the guidelines are the regurgitated—and often unsubstantiated—snippets we’re already inundated with. Case in point:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
  • Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.
  • Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
  • Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.

According to the guideline packet, these recommendations provide “information and advice for choosing a healthy eating pattern” and are “based on the most recent scientific evidence review.” If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you probably know by now that I’m weary of trusting second-hand interpretations—the original data often tells a different story than the mouths claiming to interpret it. So instead of taking the USDA’s word as gospel, why not see what they’re basing their recommendations on?

Luckily, the USDA has a Nutrition Evidence Library, where they’ve compiled the studies they used to create their latest guidelines. Let’s dig in. (more…)

Vegetarians and Heart Disease: Will Ditching Meat Really Save Your Arteries?

Welcome to 2011! (Why don’t we have flying cars yet?) My new year’s blogolutions are to 1) write here more often and 2) actually answer emails. So far, I’m failing at both, but I’ve got 359 days left to clean up my act.

Sometimes, when I feel like I don’t have enough stress in my life and start craving a blood-pressure boost, I go to my old vegan haunts to read gems like these:

The only way meat can be digested is by putrefaction, our stomach acid is only 5% of that of a carnivore or omnivore so instead of being digested it basicly [sic] rots in your intestines which leaves toxic gases and waste to be absorbed into the blood. (From here.)

we know what’s happening. we’ve known for decades. however, we also have found that when we talk about the health detriments associated with eating the products of the corpse industries, people don’t believe us. (From here.)

[T]here is a single, sole cause to heart disease: cholesterol. If your total cholesterol is below 150 and LDL is below 70, you are essentially heart attack proof. What is the cause of high cholesterol? Saturated fat and animal products. (From here.)

Don’t you love this stuff? But I digress. What I want to talk about right now is one of the most oft-cited perks of being a vegetarian: an apparently lower risk of heart disease compared to omnivores. A recent paper called Chemistry Behind Vegetarianism sums it up by saying “Omnivores have a significantly higher cluster of cardiovascular risk factors compared with vegetarians, including increased body mass index, waist to hip ratio, blood pressure, plasma total cholesterol (TC), triacylglycerol and LDL-C levels, serum lipoprotein(a) concentration, plasma factor VII activity, ratios of TC/HDL-C, LDL-C/HDL-C and TAG/HDL-C, and serum ferritin levels.”

This is a trend that some folks translate as “meat causes heart disease”—a sentiment I saw plastered all over the veggie message boards during my most recent lurking spree. I assume this belief is bolstered by all the perfectly-preserved chunks bacon found in meat eaters’ arteries during heart biopsies. (more…)