Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Don’t Diet, Live It

Anyone who has battled a weight problem know what it is like to feel guilty about every bit of food they eat.  They become obsessed with every new diet fad that come along especially those that promise unrealistic results and/or quick fixes. They can resort to eating a single food for days or choose foods that promise fat-burning properties. They follow the latest diet from the last issue of a tabloid from the supermarket. They may lose weight initially for a while, reach a plateau and give up to pursue another ill-fated attempt.  Dieting in itself can promote weight gain since with each attempt, your body adjusts to prevent weight loss.  The following article gives a more common sense and realistic approach.


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Dieting Fatigue?

It appears that interest in weight loss is waning. People want to embrace a more positive approach to food, diets and dieting instead of obsessing about weight loss. They are becoming more involved in food and healthy lifestyles instead. This a plus for the concept of Health At Every Size approach.  Good news.


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Weight Regain with the Biggest Losers

Weight Changes

A new study from the “Biggest Loser” supports the unfortunate result of losing weight and the body’s reluctance to maintain  that weight loss. It is a long article, but has many lessons to learn about long-term weight loss. Check out a previous post  on this topic HERE.


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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 Melting Pot of Nutrition

Today there are so many opinions as to what is the best diet, what are superfoods, how should we eat, how can I lose weight and keep it off – it makes your head spin.  The following article by Dr. David Katz discusses this dilemma.  And it is problem – who is right or wrong?  It seems that almost everyone that eats food has their own, often strong, opinions about diet and nutrition and due  to the internet the plethora of information and misinformation is available  to us like never before.



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low carb

low carb (Photo credit: daBinsi)

Here is a great article on 23 studies comparing  low carbohydrate versus low fat diets.  All the studies were randomized, controlled trials and published in respected, peer-reviewed journals.  Another thing that stands out in these studies is their consistent results and conclusions, not often found in diet and nutrition research.  And yet, there still remains skepticism about the efficacy of the lower carbohydrate diet on weight loss and metabolic effects.  What still remains to be determined is  if the differences in the metabolic markers (HDL, trigycerides, LDL particle size, etc) will result in less heart disease or at least have a favorable effect on our chronic disease risks, namely diabetes and heart disease.  It will be interesting to see this trend continue, but it will be of no worth unless it translates to better heart health in the long run.  Additionally, a low-carb diet should be defined; at this point it appears to be an ambiguous term and there are many approaches being followed such as the Paleo diets, low-glycemic diets,, ketogenic diets, etc. etc.

A recent study examined the effects of a low-carbohyrate diet versus a low-fat diet on inflammation, implicated in heart disease among other chronic diseases.


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The Ideal Woman?

Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt (Photo credit: Crossett Library Bennington College)

A controversial new government study released this week has challenged some dieters’ resolutions to lose weight.

The research showed that people, who are  up to 30 or so pounds above normal, have a slightly lower risk (6%) of premature death than those at a normal weight.

But those who are extremely obese — roughly 60 or more pounds over a normal weight — have a 29% greater risk of dying early than those who are at a normal weight, according to the review nearly 100 studies, conducted by researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The scientists looked at deaths from all reasons and people’s body mass index (BMI), a number that considers weight and height.

This recent study supports previous studies that basically reached the same conclusions.  A study in 2005 found that overweight people had the lowest mortality of any weight group. The overweight category of BMI ranges from 25 – 30, a groups we would politely called “chubby”.  For example, a woman who is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs between 146 and 175 pounds would fall into this group as well as about a third of Americans as defined by the Center For Disease Control and Prevention.

Fat phobia, excessive fear and dislike of fat in oneself and in others, is a relatively new phenomenon, born during the 20th century. Before that time, fat was accepted and admired in women, and was considered a sign of affluence and therefore high status. One of the greatly admired beauties of the end of the 19th century, Lillian Russell (1861-1922), weighed over 200 pounds. Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) was an operatic star and actress of large proportions. Elisabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), the feminist writer and lecturer and the fiery labor organizer, Mary Harris “Mother Jones” (1830-1930) were both obese by present day standards.

Generally the time line looks like this:

  • Victorian area – 1800’s.  As mentioned before, the ideal woman’s body type was plump, fleshy, and full-figured.  This led to the wearing of tight restrictive corsets to make the waist appear tiny, a very unhealthy problem leading to breathing and digestive problems.
  • Early 1900’s – Slenderness became more fashionable, and women became more interested in calorie counting and the science of weight loss (just emerging).
  • 1920’s – The hourglass figure changed considerably to the image of the “flapper”, who ideally was thin to resemble a more boyish image.
  • 1950’s – A thin woman with a large bust line was considered most attractive.  Marilyn Monroe became the ideal but by today’s standards but has been described by some as “fleshy”.
  • 1960’s – Being thin became the normal standard exemplified by the English model Lesley Hornsby, aka Twiggy.  At that time she weighed 90 pounds at 5 feet 6 inches tall.
  • During the 1970’s and 1980’s, thinness was ideal as promoted by popular women’s magazines.  Miss America contestants became thinner as well as top models.
  • 1990’s – Pamela “Baywatch” Anderson exemplified the ideal as very slim and large-breasted.

Today – Thin is still in.  We use many means to achieve this goal including liposuction and many fail diet after diet.  There are some indications that reality may prevail as we hopefully shift our emphasis on weight loss to healthy weights.  The track record is dismal and not since the early 1900’s has it been popular.  Maybe it’s time for a change, again.  Is it time for common sense about our weight?  Take a look at the “ideal woman” from 1912.  It is totally impossible to define the ideal woman or man and even more impossible for many of us to acheive.  TAKE A LOOK AT THE LIFE OF ELSIE REBECCA SCHEEL


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