Archive for July, 2010

High Fructose Corn Syrup: June 2004 Am. J. Clinical Nutrition article, 2008 editorial

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

I was reading an article in "the Wall Street Journal," (WSJ) in their Health and Wellness section for July 13th, 2010. The article discussed findings from two major medical conferences on obesity. The title of the piece was "Eating to Live or Living to Eat" with a subtitle "Why Some People Can Resist Dessert While Others Can't."

There was a lot of good material in the article, but as usual, I wanted to read the source material for myself. I've learned over the years that articles, books and presentations can often be written to fit the biases of the writer. So I'll almost always try to track down the original publications. One of the comments in the WSJ had to do with leptin, a hormone that normally helps you know when you're full.

That thread took me to an 2004 article published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." I view this as a seminal research study, one we're just catching up to. The authors, researchers at Loiusina State University and the University of North Carolina gave data showing the consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup increased, in the U.S. population, ten-fold in a twenty-year period, forming 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages.

Why is that important. Well, let's once more go back to the decision of our government to support the pesticide and fertilizer industries after WW II (I've mentioned this in prior posts) and therefore to support corn and soybean growers. That eventually led to the push for more HFCS use.

Why is that bad? The 2004 study shows the parallel increase in obesity, with a lag time of course, and discusses the problem of fructose, which is metabolized differently than ordinary sugar and therefore doesn't, via several mechanisms, including that of leptin, give you the "I've eaten enough signal."

More than that, HFCS is added to lots of foods, but especially to soft drinks. Some of the "food items" it's added to, and sodas are among those, are just "empty calories," with no real nutrient value.

The leader author of the 2004 study, Professor George A. Bray, published or co-published nine books on the subject in the last twenty years and a 2008 editiorial, in the same journal, on, "How bad is fructose?". He's also been attacked, in an online publication I just read, as someone who is paid by the pharmaceutical industry to help promote anti-obesity medications. My bet is the writer of this piece works for an non-academic concern and likely for the food industry. Dr. Bray's 2008 editorial on fructose in the same journal had the statement, "The author has no personal or financial conflict of interest."

My own take is the conclusions in his 2004 study, that HFCS is overused by our foods industries, that we should get soda machines out of our schools and reduce the portion size of sodas offered in other venues, made sense. As a nation, we're just now following some of those recommendations.

These days my wife and I read labels when we do buy processed foods and avoids foods that have HFCS. We're doing much less of this anyways, since we get farmers' market and CSA produce regularly and have our milk and eggs delivered from a local organic dairy.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

More on "What to Eat"

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

I finished Dr. Marion Nestle's book, "What to Eat" some time ago, but got distracted by several other books and articles in various publications I read. Now I'd like to return to her superb volume and make a blanket statement to begin with. I've been concentrating on books, articles and online sources, in the wide field of food, nutrition and dieting for well over a year now and have found and read a number of excellent publications . If you were limited to reading only one book in the area, I'd strongly suggest this one.

That being said, I'd like to devote a few posts to the book and my reactions to it.

Nestle expanded my concept of who benefits from our having an overabundance of food available, and eating much more of it then we should (remember two thirds of Americans are overweight. and half of that group, one third of our total population is obese). So of course the food industry, in all its manifestations, food production, sit-down restaurants and the plethora of fast-food outlets, benefits directly from our overeating.

What I hadn't thought of as collateral beneficiaries were the whole diet industry, our expanding number of health clubs, our pharmaceutical firms and even my colleagues in medicine.

Then there's the stock market angle. A number of those entities I've listed (a list I've obtained from reading Nestle's book) are actually publicly owned and have shares traded on the stock market. As such, my take is they need to demonstrate constant growth, or at least a pattern of growth, to maintain share value.

Nestle also emphasizes changes, over the last thirty years or so, in our eating patterns. We are encouraged to snack from an early age and most of those snacks, unlike my occasional piece of fruit, are empty calories. More calories ingested equals more weight, unless you're also burning more calories.

I'm now six and a half weeks out from back surgery and won't be able to return to our own health club for another ten days. So for now I'm walking, and going a little further each day. Today I walked for seventy-five minutes. I wasn't moving very rapidly and I didn't calculate how many calories I burned. I didn't care really; it was a beautiful morning (I started at 7:45 AM) and I enjoyed the walk. I chose a different route than I've taken in past days and saw some different scenery.

A major part of losing weight is to think about what you're doing when you shop, when you eat and when you chose how to spend your time. I may watch a TV show from time to time, but I'd rather spend the same amount of time exercising.

How about you? What choices do you make in these areas?

The China Study; time to change my diet?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

We were on a trip recently and stopped for three days to visit some relatives we seldom get to see. He's a physician, past department chair at a highly regarded clinic/academic center and is working on a major research project in four countries, one of which is China. They've altered their dietary pattern in a very significant manner since we last saw them, four years ago. I asked for the background data on their new diet and purchased two books, the first of which is "The China Study," by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and his youngest son, Thomas M. Campbell II.

Dr. Campbell, an emeritus named-chair professor at Cornell, has been a long-term major figure in the area of nutrition and was involved in a large-scale research project involving scientists from China, the US and England. They did blood-work and gave out questionnaires to 6,500 adults in rural and semi-rural areas of China as well as performing urine tests, three-day dietary measurements and analysis of food samples.

The resultant book emphasizes health differences between people in China on a mostly to exclusively vegetarian diet and those of us who eat what has been termed the Western Diet, one rich in meat and dairy products, relatively low in vegetables and fruit. Dr. Campbell strongly advocates our switching to an exclusively plant-based diet and details how the "Diseases of Affluence," especially heart attacks, diabetes Type 2, some cancers, and obesity are related to nutrition.

I also looked at Dr. Campbell's impressive bio and, as well, read some of the critiques of his conclusions. I think the book is well worth reading and enjoyed Dr. Campbell's article in "The Huffington Post," published today (7-21-2010). In it he calls for an NIH Institute of Nutrition. I would agree that our Western Diet, rich in fats, sugar and salt, is a major cause of overweight and many assocated diseases. I would disagree that some of the specific conclusions in "The China Study" have been conclusively proven. I'd love to see a new NIH branch which could fund studies to prove or disprove those conclusions.

I'd recommend you read the book and judge for yourself.

Harvard Medical School Weighs In

Friday, July 16th, 2010

I recently received an email from Harvard Medical School (HMS) about their series of medically-related Special Health Reports. I purchased one on Women's Health Fifty and Forward for my wife and then saw another in their list titled "Lose Weight and Keep it Off." That one arrived just after we got home from a two-week vacation. On the morning we departed I weighed 149 pounds, the bottom edge of my goal weight of 149-150. I knew before we left that I wouldn't be sticking to my usual diet, but hadn't realized that I'd gain six and a half pounds on the trip.

I went back to the strict version of my diet as soon as we got home and three and a half of those extra pounds are gone already. This morning I weighed 152.2, within my acceptable range. Having started my dieting in May of 2009 at 177, I'm not too upset, but I wanted to look at the HMS take on dieting and especially on maintaining your weight goal once you've achieved it. I'd like to do better on vacations.

I had lots of excuses for my temporary weight gain: I was recovering from b ack surgery and couldn't exercise like I usually do six or seven days a week;we had visited relatives on the first leg of our trip and they fed us very well; the week-long Chautauqua stay was at a lovely hotel with abundant meals included and the final three days were spent visiting friends, one of whom is on the New York Times staff as a deputy food editor and took us to his favorite restaurants. I wasn't happy with my excuses.

The last chapter of the HMS report cites the statistic that 95% of people who lose weight will regain it in a few years. Well I'm interested in being in the 5% who can keep their weight off, so I read that chapter with great interest. It turns out there's a project, the National Weight Control Registry, that has been following over 5,000 long-term dieting successes. Of course, those people, in general, stick to diets that are healthy and don't have excess calories. They also exercise regularly.

That made sense, but it turns out that they differ considerably in their diets and what they do for exercise. What they do share is the ability to pick out an approach to eating and exercise that fits their own long-term goals. Then they adhere to that plan, get an hour of exercise a day, eat lots of fiber and less fat, weigh themselves at least weekly and don't watch much TV.

Okay, I do all of that and, having read the HMS publication, I realize watch TV is a double-edged sword. By that I mean you're stationary and you're exposed to lots of food commercials.

That's great stuff, but didn't tell me what to do on vacations. I think what I have to incorporate into my travel plans, maybe on my computerized pack lists, is a statement. "You're going on a trip, Peter. You're also going on your own diet plan, especially the part about portion control."

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen redux

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

I had seen an article on foods that are more often contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals and wrote a blog post on it ("Protect your kids, buy organic") on May 21st. Now I've got a follow-up to that post. To begin with, as I briefly alluded to in the May post, there's an Environmental Working Group (EWG) that makes recommendations to the public on a number of health-related issues. It's a 501(c)3 non-profit that was originally formed in 1993 and includes people from a variety of disciplines (e.g., scientists, engineers, lawyers). It also, since 2002, advocates Congress on health-protection and subsidy-shifting policies and publishes a variety of reports through its website I just signed up for several of its newsletters and read a study that may lead to my changing which cellphone I use.

"Prevention" magazine, in its August 2010 edition just published an article reviewing the recent version of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. I usually don't read this publication, but my spouse has a subscription and said I'd be interested in this particular article. When I originally found those lists in May, I clipped them from a newspaper, researched the background of the EWG, then made multiple copies of the lists and we started buying more organic foods than we had previously. Subsequently our 26-week Grant Family Farms (local CSA) Veggie Couples Share began and, as of yesterday, our 22-week Fruit Share began. But we're still buying some produce that doesn't come from our CSA. So I read the article in my wife's copy of "Prevention" with interest.

The writer went through the lists fruit and vegetable by fruit and vegetable and gave a cogent rationale for why each was on each list. For instance, take celery, which ranked number one on the Dirty Dozen list. When I first read that I wasn't at all sure why celery would be in the "These you really should buy in the Organic foods section." But the comment in the article made sense. Three quarters of our celery crop is grown in the fall and winter when weather conditions make contamination by bacteria and fungi more likely to occur. That added to the fact that we consume all of the celery stalk (I do cut of those leafy bits and the large end of the stalk), leads to repetitive spraying of the crop with pesticides. So buying organic celery now does make logical sense to me.

Try the EWG website and see if their work interests you as much as it does me.

Marion Nestle's book, "What to Eat"

Friday, July 9th, 2010

On one of my previous posts I mentioned Marion Nestle as a professor of nutrition who had commented on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. I read two of her columns in the Atlantic Monthly and a blog post she had written and was struck by her intimate and detailed knowledge of the process by which the Dietary Guidelines, initially put together by an committee of experts, get subtly altered before they reach their final form.

Subsequently I purchased two of her books and have been reading my way through her absolutely superb book, "What to Eat." I've been stunned by her depth of knowledge and have learned many new facts. Today I looked at her bio and realized she's been directly involved with the Dietary Guidelines in the past, has both a Masters' degree in public health nutrition and a Ph.D in molecular biology.

The book itself is stellar and won the James Beard Foundation award for best food reference in 2007. Dr. Nestle examines the trillion dollar/year US food industry and walks you through the sections of a supermarket commenting as she goes. I'll mention a few of the more striking areas today, but will try to pick out more over the next few posts I do. I think you should read this book yourself.

When you enter an average supermarket in this country, you're confrounded with an enormous array of choices. She estimates you have 30,000 plus to pick from. So how do you get to the items on your shopping list? Well first you have to pass artfully, probably a better term is cunningly, arranged shelves and more shelves with food items you didn't plan to buy.

The placement of those food choices is far from random. If your goal, like mine, is to shop the periphery, mostly purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables and a few dairy items, you'll still pass through a gauntlet of deliberately placed, often highly processed, foods, many of which have lengthy ingredient lists. And you'll likely find the things you do wish to buy have less carefully been arranged.

Why is this? Well to start with the government subsidizes the production of a few items: corn, soybeans, sugar beets and sugarcane, but not that of other fruits and vegetables. And the major food companies (that includes a much smaller number of them than I had once thought), don't make as much money from the items on my shopping list, but lots more from foods that have been augmented, processed and made to appear appetizing to adults and, in some cases to children.

So the next time you're in a supermarket, go there with your own shopping list and try to stick to it. Look at ingredient lists if you do buy processed foods; check out the fat, sugars (sic) and salt contents of anything you buy. And start to look at what is placed where in the store. Decide what's been put there to catch your attention and to tempt you to buy.

Happy shopping.