The sugar industry and paying scientists

Anahad O’Connor at the New York Times – How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat:

The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.

Even though the influence-peddling revealed in the documents dates back nearly 50 years, more recent reports show that the food industry has continued to influence nutrition science.

That last sentence is what gets me. This is going on right now, and has been going on for ages. It’s nothing new, and also it’s what happens in many other industries. Scientists are a little better regarding disclosures of funding now than 50 years ago, but industry is where a lot of research money comes from. An industry finds scientists who are either on their side of the issue or are sympathetic to their issue and funds their research.

What we need to do is to understand the biases and keep them in mind when making decisions on health policy.

Simple healthy eating

Aaron E. Carroll for the New York Times, The Upshot – Simple rules for healthy eating:

All of these rules are subtly trying to get you to be more conscious of what you’re eating. It’s far too easy these days to consume more than you think you are, or more than you really need, especially when eating out. I’ve found that it’s impossible to tell any one person how much they should be eating. People have varying requirements, and it’s important for all of them to listen to their bodies to know when they should eat, and when they should stop.

I’ve found that making change is hard. How many times have I started running, only to stop a few weeks later due to illness and not getting back into it when I’m better? But we have made the change in our diets. Slowly and over time (in the last 4-5 years) we’ve made small changes that have resulted in weight loss (30+ lbs for me over that time), reduction in cholesterol levels and overall feeling better about my body image.

The burden of unhealthy behaviours

Project Big Life – Life expectancy calculator based on Canadian community health surveys. The calculator bases their predictions on your (truthful) answers to their questions on diet, exercise and a few other factors.

What Do These Findings Mean?

  • Unhealthy behaviours contribute to a large burden of reduced life expectancy.
  • Linked population health surveys create an opportunity to estimate burden of disease using individual-based data, as in our multivariable predictive approach, and to supplement existing aggregate approaches.
  • Multivariable risk algorithms can be validated and calibrated for potential application in over 100 countries, potentially allowing widespread use of multivariable approaches.
  • Multivariable risk algorithms are more complex than alternative approaches to measure burden from health behaviours, but their use can be facilitated by reporting the algorithm in machine-readable format (https://github.com/Ottawa-mHealth/predictive-algorithms) and/or by providing online calculators (https://www.projectbiglife.ca).

My life expectancy is 87 years, with my health age being 31 years. Not bad for a 37 year old?

On celebrity food endorsements

Allison Aubrey at NPR – This is how much celebrities get paid to endorse soda and unhealthy food:

What’s certain is this: Celebrity-backed food is here to stay. Even Oprah is poised to get in on the branded-food bandwagon.

A search of the the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database shows Oprah has applied to trademark a range of food products — from Oprah pancakes and popcorn to pizza, to name just a few on the list.

And the actual study by Bragg et al:

CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates that music celebrities who are popular among adolescents endorse energy-dense, nutrient-poor products.

Follow the money.

Ontario fast food restaurants will soon require food labels

Laura Wright for the CBC – Ontario fast-food labels could cause women to gain weight, public health advocate says:

Along with the calorie information, chain restaurants will have to display a “context statement” meant to help consumers better understand the calorie count. The statement will say adults require 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day, but that individual calorie needs vary.

Hospital food gets an update – only after the managers try it out

Elizabeth Payne at the Ottawa Citizen – Ottawa Hospital managers, after eating the food for a week, say changes are coming:

Getting food managers to eat three meals of hospital food a day for a week, he said, brought the point home that much of the food being served was bland, institutional and not what people would normally eat.

No kidding.

Maybe carbohydrates aren’t that bad after all

Julia Belloz at Vox – We’ve long blamed carbs for making us fat. What if that’s wrong?

The main scientific model behind the low-carb approach is the “carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis,” which journalist Gary Taubes, Harvard professor David Ludwig, and others have extensively promoted. It suggests that a diet heavy in carbohydrates (especially refined grains and sugars) leads to weight gain because of a specific mechanism: Carbs drive up insulin in the body, causing the body to hold on to fat and suppress calorie burn.

But what’s often lost in all the boosterism around the low-carb approach is that it is still an unproven hypothesis in science.

So they did a study to show whether a low-carb diet can actually help to reduce weight. 17 overweight or obese men in a metabolic chamber for 4 weeks and fed either a high carbohydrate diet or ketogenic diet with the same number of calories. Results? No increased body fat loss with the ketogenic diet.

But as Bazinet points out, “The study … doesn’t see any [relationship between a decrease in insulin and an increase in fat loss]. Show me a better study that supports this.”

There isn’t any, he added.

Ah. Conclusions?

Tobias urged dieters not to lose sight of the bigger picture. “Low-carb versus low-fat should not be the focus for people selecting a weight loss diet.” The focus, she said, should be on improving the quality of food that people eat instead.

On Fat and Sugar

Jill Eisen for the CBC – Fat and Sugar, Part 1

First, fat was the dietary bad guy. We were warned back in the 1980s to cut back on eggs, meat and full-fat dairy to avoid heart disease. So we started eating more bread, rice and pasta and fat-free snacks. But we got sicker and fatter. Now sugar is the bad guy. Contributor Jill Eisen explores the complex, and sometimes contradictory, science of nutrition — and tries to find clarity amidst the thicket of studies and ambiguous research.

There’s also a great list of research references and a reading list at the link, for more information.

Part 2 airs on June 22, 2016.

Gut microbiome science (or non-science)

Anna Maria Barry-Jester – Is Gut Science Biased?:

The vast majority of data on microbiomes across science is still mostly coming from people in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and having too narrow a sample of the population means we could be looking at the proverbial trees when what we need to understand is the whole forest.

Much of what we know about gut microbiomes is biased towards what can be easily measured – the guts of people in the western world. I’d take articles touting the benefits of this or that diet on gut microbiome with a grain of salt.

Gluten free diets aren’t quite what most people think they are

Norelle R. Reilly recently published an article in the Journal of Pediatrics – The Gluten-Free Diet: Recognizing Fact, Fiction and Fad:

Gluten-free packaged foods frequently contain a greater density of fat and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts. Increased fat and calorie intake have been identified in individuals after a GFD. Obesity, overweight, and new-onset insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have been identified after initiation of a GFD. A GFD also may lead to deficiencies in B vitamins, folate, and iron, given a lack of nutrient fortification of many gluten-free products.

Uh-oh. Not good for those people who are gluten-free for non-celiac reasons.

There is emerging evidence that those consuming gluten-free products without sufficient diversity may be at greater risk of exposure to certain toxins than those on an unrestricted diet. Arsenic is frequently present in inorganic form in rice, a concern for those on a GFD given that rice is a common ingredient in gluten-free processed foods.

A constant worry for us, since much of our diet is rice-based. Maybe 80% or so.

There also are noteworthy non-nutritional implications of a GFD. Worldwide, those purchasing gluten-free products will encounter far greater food costs than gluten containing competitors. Social isolation and inconvenience have been reported by children with CD requiring a GFD, and some with CD report a deterioration in their quality of life while on a GFD, linked in many cases to the diet itself.

We are lucky to be able to afford the time and expense of making much of our food from scratch in order to keep it as safe as we can from allergens. But it’s another worry for us in the future as our son grows up.