Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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The Alkaline Diet?


Another fad diet that’s been around in many forms for decades -based on the misguided premise of the need to “detox.”  The diet plan mimics many others in terms of a sensible plan with more fruits and vegetables and avoiding highly processed foods;  however, there is no science behind its basis – detoxification. For the origin of this kind of thinking, click HERE.


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The Demise of the Low Fat Diet?


Oh my – all those years of counting fat grams and eating Snackwell cookies?  What a waste of time.  Good riddance to the low-fat diet.  Some say it made us all gain weight?  The low carbohydrate diet has a long history whereas the low fat diet appeared in the 1980’s due to the concerns about fat and heart disease.  You may enjoy a previous post on diet history HERE.


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Food Facts and Fads in History – The First Fast Food


FYI: Enjoy a little bit of food history.

The first fast food restaurants were the Horn and Hardart Automats. The Swiss had invented a “waiterless restaurant” which had rectangular glass doors that opened by a knob. The customer would walk by the windows and select an item, insert a nickel and remove the cold food. Behind the doors, women would replenish the food when needed. Diners chose hot foods at buffet-style steam tables.

Often these windows were adorned with lavish decor. “Beautifully ornate with its mirrors, marble and marquetry, a 35-foot piece of Philadelphia’s 1902 Horn & Hardart is in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.”

“In huge rectangular halls filled with shiny, lacquered tables, women with rubber tips on their fingers—”nickel throwers,” as they became known, in glass booths gave customers the desired five-cent pieces required to operate the food machines in exchange for larger coins and paper money. ”

For diners who were really in such a rush, the company provided stand-up counters similar to those that banks provide for writing deposit slips. These people ate what became known as “perpendicular meals.”

The last Automat closed in New York City in 1991;  they had the reputation of serving clean, fresh food at a low cost and tipping was not required.

Meet Me At the Automat

By Carolyn Hughes Crowley

Smithsonian Magazine August 2001

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A Dietary Timeline – An Update – 1825 to 2016


This post is an update to a previous post that depicted the history of diets and dieting and how they changed over time.  It shows how women’s body image, food gurus, medical associations, the food supply and ultimately the food industry through lobbying has affected our eating habits  for over a century.



A French lawyer named Brillant-Savarin said in a publication entitled The Physiology of Taste:  “More or less rigid abstinence from everything that is starchy or floury” is a cure for obesity.


Sugar consumption, mainly as molasses) had increased in the U.S. to 15 pounds per capita.


William Banting lost 65 pounds on a high fat, carbohydrate restricted diet and subsequently published, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. He based his success on the advice of his physician, Dr. William Harvey.

1880 – 1910

One out of three people lived on a farm and ate from what they raised and grew there – today with 300 million people, only about 1% do so. The risk of getting type 2 diabetes was 1 in 30 in a lifetime – now it is 1 in 3. (CDC estimates). Butter consumption was 18 pounds per capita and deaths from heart disease was below 10% – In 2000 it was below 4 pounds and now heart disease mortality is about 40% eating concocted supposedly healthier alternatives – e.g. margarine.


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a man named Wilbur Atwater conducted experiments in which he calculated the number of calories in various diets, and collected people’s feces to determine how many calories were wasted. Based on these experiments, Atwater concluded that proteins and carbohydrates have about 4 calories per gram, fats have 9 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 calories per gram.


Lillian Russell, a stage actress and singer born in 1861. was repeatedly mentioned known as one of the most beautiful women on the American stage.” At the peak of her fame, Russel weighed approximately 200 pounds and was celebrated for her curvaceous figure. She was described ” a particularly robust and healthy creature, who takes good care to remain so.” By today’s standards, her weight would be classified as “obese”.


Proctor and Gamble introduced Crisco – a highly hydrogenated vegetable fat and cheap alternative to lard – the primary cooking fat at the time. The advantage to the manufacturer and the cook was a longer shelf life but provided a multitude of hundreds of pounds of unhealthy trans fatty acids.


The twenty-seventh President of the United States, William Howard Taft reportedly was stuck in the White House bathtub due to his massive girth.

1918 Lulu Hunt Peters, an American doctor wrote the first known diet book, Diet and Health with a Key to the Calories. It was a best seller with over 2 million copies sold. She was the first to mention that cutting calories was an effective weight-watching tool. Her success was more than likely prompted by the new body image of women as being slender, or “thin was in”.


Sugar consumption reaches 100 pounds per capita in the U.S.


Margarine consumption reaches 2.6 pounds per capita. By 1957, margarine consumption increased to about 9 pounds – surpassing butter for the first time ever.


A blood test for cholesterol was developed.

1937 – The Debate Begins (aka What’s going on here?)

Columbia University biochemists David Rittenberg & Rudolph Schoenheimer demonstrated that dietary cholesterol had little or no influence on blood cholesterol. This scientific fact has never been refuted.

Cholesterol in food has no affect on cholesterol in blood and we’ve known that all along.”  These are the words of Professor Ancel Keys, American Heart Association board member and author of The Seven Countries Study who, in retirement, recanted the idea that dietary cholesterol raises blood levels. His recant has been greeted with silence. Keys studied 22 countries, but chose data from only seven.  He also excluded France with high fat and low rates of heart disease. Due to this, his observational study was considered to be flawed.

1950  – 1955

Dietary emphasis on fats and cholesterol in the diet became a hot topic due to Ancel Key’s flawed study and in 1955; President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack.  His twice-daily press conferences focused on his cholesterol levels and he was put on a low fat diet.  Dietary fat also became the villain for weight gain.


Margarine outsold butter for the first time – more trans fat and an increase in omega-6 fats shown to be inflammatory to the body tissues. Some animal research had suggested that omega-6 fats alone encourage weight gain.

1961 – Let the Diet Books Begin

Calories Don’t Count was published by Dr. Herman Taller.  The low-calorie diet is a humbug, he declared.  A native of Romania, he studied medicine in Italy and became a Brooklyn obstetrician-gynecologist specializing in natural childbirth. He was also a dieter whose weight ballooned up to 265 lb. on a 5-ft. 10-in. frame. Previously, a cholesterol researcher suggested an oily substance to help bring down his high cholesterol level. Taller also found that he was losing weight–65 lb. in 8 months–even while consuming 5,000 calories a day.  The oily substance was a polyunsaturated fat that was claimed to stimulate the body to burn fat. Taller therefore recommended a high-fat diet supplemented by polyunsaturated safflower oil capsules high in omega-6 linoleic acid.  Back in the 1960’s vegetable fats were new and everyone wanted them to be a new health food.  This has not been supported in the last 50 years of research.

The American Heart Association adopted the well-known low-fat diet that began an era of fat maligning and the glorification of low fat foods.  Dieters began to count fat grams daily.  However, during our national experiment with a low-fat diet, people continued to pile on the pounds every decade.


High fructose corn syrup enters the sweetener market. By 1985, 50 percent of the this sweetener was consumed in America.

1980 -1990

Obesity levels had remained between 12-14 percent from 1960 to 1980. After 1980 and then again in 1990, obesity grew dramatically until today when every state has obesity rates over 25 percent.  Type 2 diabetes is now reported to have a 1 in 3 lifetime risk.


The Food Guide Pyramid was introduced, recommending 6-11 servings of breads, cereals, rice, or pasta a day without mentioning whole grain options.  Fats and oils were restricted without mentioning healthy fats versus less healthy ones.


Soybean oil has 70 percent of the edible fat market in the U.S.  Lard consumption is less than 1 pound.  Sugar consumption in the U.S. 150 pounds per capita. Butter consumption is less than 4 pounds per capita.


After 50 years of Egg-beaters, low fat cheese, margarine, skinless chicken breasts, and highly processed soy and Canola oils, and two Food Guide Pyramids and 11 releases of the USDA Dietary Guidelines,  one third of Americans are obese; 25 percent are diabetic or pre-diabetic.


Food Guide Pyramid is revised to My Pyramid with little dietary changes and was criticized for its misunderstandings and format.


Sugar consumption is now 160 pounds per capita. Compare that to the 15 pounds per capita in 1830.

2011 No More Pyramids

A simplified MyPlate is introduced as the latest attempt at Food Guides. My Plate recommended 30% of the plate as grains, 30% vegetables, 20% fruit and 20% protein. A small circle represents dairy.

2015-16  The 2015 Dietary Guidelines were presented with little changes based on the latest research. Here is what they said and what they should have said.

  • This is a big change  For the first time, our national health authorities are urging Americans to limit sugar to no more than 10% of daily calories. In a 2,000-calorie diet, 10% is 200 calories—the equivalent of about 12½ teaspoons of sugar. Yet we average 20 teaspoons a day.
  • It is not in the guidelines! Based on scientific evidence that’s been accumulating for decades, dietary cholesterol (as opposed to blood cholesterol) just isn’t any concern anymore.
  • For the first time, there is no limit on total fat. However, the advice to limit saturated fat is still in there—even though the evidence that saturated fat leads to heart disease has turned out to be pretty weak..
  • An original report associated with the new guidelines called for cutting back on red meat, especially processed meat, but the final official guidelines due to the lobbying of the meat industry wanted its message weakened.
  • Fish. This got specific for the first time—aim for at least eight ounces a week, in part to get its heart-healthy nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids.
  • The original report called for including sustainability issues in the guidelines—which would mean eating more plant-based food and less animal-based foods. But the USDA administration omitted that idea, too.

The Future?

About 287 people per 100,000 had heart attacks in 2000. By 2008, the rate had dropped to 208 heart attacks per 100,000. Deaths from heart attacks also declined. That is good news. Something must be going right – but what is it? Many think it is due to technological advances in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.

What’s going on?

In 2010,  the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a landmark report that has turned current fat recommendations upside down. The verdict from the study is that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk for heart disease.’’

Over the same period, the use of drugs to treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol increased quite a bit. Meat consumption has been declining for the past few decades. However, the gains could be short-lived. In the last decade the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes has increased by almost a percentage point. Over the same period, obesity has increased by three percentage points. If that trend continues, heart disease rates may again rise.

Unless we have been infected by a yet to be discovered obesity virus, we have a national eating disorder that needs to be fixed. Big food has made quite a mess of our food supply. Is saturated fat the culprit it was made out to be?  Can excess refined vegetable oils, sugar or fructose be to blamed?

Will our food culture ever be able to return to a diet of whole, real foods to replace the refined, processed, chemical-laden foods forced upon us by the food industry? Will the experts in the AHA, the USDA and big food ever get it?  Do not count on it. The solution may just have to rely on getting the message to consumers with more reliable nutrition education who then may make more demands for a healthier and safer food supply.


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The Potato Diet?

skd288907sdcPotatoes have plenty of vitamin C and good amounts of fiber and potassium. However, followers of this fad diet will have some nutritional problems. One medium plain potato has only 170 calories mostly as carbohydrate, but lacks in protein and fats. It contains only 5 grams of protein. In terms of total protein, a follower of this diet would have to eat about 11 potatoes a day, since an adult male needs about 56 grams of protein a day. However, potatoes are not high quality proteins – they are considered incomplete proteins since they lack enough of the nine amino acids needed for protein synthesis.

The type of starch in potatoes is digested more rapidly, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. The rate of digestion combined with the quantity of starch in a potato result in a high glycemic index rating. A baked Russet  potato (150 grams) has an average score of 111. This score is higher than pure glucose, which means the baked potato creates a fast and large spike in blood sugar that can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain and diabetes.

Needless to say, the “Spud Fit” diet is not a good idea.



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