Category Archives: Culinary

Losing Weight And Keeping It Off

The amount of unconscious junk science in this NYT article is staggering.

Note the underlying assumption: that calorie counting is useful, that burning calories (i.e., exercise) is useful, and that the type of calories you consume is irrelevant. And it’s all about the weight (they didn’t mention BMI, but I’ll bet they were measuring it). Did any of them do strength training? Because exchanging muscle for fat will increase metabolism.

The Vegetarian Myth

Dr. Eades reviews what appears to be a very interesting book.

My thoughts: No, we can’t sustain the current human population without agriculture. But then, we’re not sure how we’re going to sustain a human population in space, either. We need advances in technology to solve either problem. I suspect that we’ll be manufacturing meat in the not-too-distant future that will have the taste, texture and nutrition of the real thing, and that will be good for all, including wildlife. But even absent that, I’d amend the old bumper sticker. Grains aren’t food. Grains are what food eats.

Sugar, Not Fat

A sad history of nutrition junk science:

At best, we can conclude that the official guidelines did not achieve their objective; at worst, they led to a decades-long health catastrophe. Naturally, then, a search for culprits has ensued. Scientists are conventionally apolitical figures, but these days, nutrition researchers write editorials and books that resemble liberal activist tracts, fizzing with righteous denunciations of “big sugar” and fast food. Nobody could have predicted, it is said, how the food manufacturers would respond to the injunction against fat – selling us low-fat yoghurts bulked up with sugar, and cakes infused with liver-corroding transfats.

Nutrition scientists are angry with the press for distorting their findings, politicians for failing to heed them, and the rest of us for overeating and under-exercising. In short, everyone – business, media, politicians, consumers – is to blame. Everyone, that is, except scientists.

But it was not impossible to foresee that the vilification of fat might be an error. Energy from food comes to us in three forms: fat, carbohydrate, and protein. Since the proportion of energy we get from protein tends to stay stable, whatever our diet, a low-fat diet effectively means a high-carbohydrate diet. The most versatile and palatable carbohydrate is sugar, which John Yudkin had already circled in red. In 1974, the UK medical journal, the Lancet, sounded a warning about the possible consequences of recommending reductions in dietary fat: “The cure should not be worse than the disease.”

But it was. And it’s sickened and killed millions, probably including my father in the late seventies.

[Update a few minutes later]

Then there’s this:

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, in a 2008 analysis of all studies of the low-fat diet, found “no probable or convincing evidence” that a high level of dietary fat causes heart disease or cancer. Another landmark review, published in 2010, in the American Society for Nutrition, and authored by, among others, Ronald Krauss, a highly respected researcher and physician at the University of California, stated “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD [coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease]”.

Many nutritionists refused to accept these conclusions. The journal that published Krauss’s review, wary of outrage among its readers, prefaced it with a rebuttal by a former right-hand man of Ancel Keys, which implied that since Krauss’s findings contradicted every national and international dietary recommendation, they must be flawed. The circular logic is symptomatic of a field with an unusually high propensity for ignoring evidence that does not fit its conventional wisdom.

Gary Taubes is a physicist by background. “In physics,” he told me, “You look for the anomalous result. Then you have something to explain. In nutrition, the game is to confirm what you and your predecessors have always believed.” As one nutritionist explained to Nina Teicholz, with delicate understatement: “Scientists believe that saturated fat is bad for you, and there is a good deal of reluctance toward accepting evidence to the contrary.”

I could rewrite this only slightly: “Scientists believe that fossil-fuel use is bad for for the planet, and there is a good deal of reluctance toward accepting evidence to the contrary.”

Also, if we learn nothing else from this tragic episode, it is that a physician is the last person you should ask for dietary advice.

[Update a while later]

This seems related, somehow: Scientists united against science museums.

As I’ve noted in the past, any field of science that has major public-policy implications is doomed to become politicized, and both climate and nutrition fall in that category. There’s not a lot we can do about it except be aware of it, and especially cautious of “scientific” findings in those fields.