Low-carb dieting is taking its toll on sectors of the food industry. Pasta sales have declined 4 percent over the past year and orange juice consumption is down 5 percent (Washington Times 1/28/2004), while egg prices have gone up. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and Slim Fast are struggling to compete with the low-carb craze–sales of Slim-Fast slipped 27 percent last year. What especially worries the high-carb weight loss industry is the staying power of the low-carb diet. “Unless something comes out from the medical community saying there’s something wrong with the Atkins Diet, I don’t see any end to it,” says John LaRosa, president of Marketdata Enterprises, Inc., an industry research firm (Washington Post 4/4/2004). But try as they do, it’s hard to produce negative research. In fact, a recent study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that subjects eating a low-carb, high-fat diet lost just as much as those on a low-fat, high-carb diet, even though they consumed an extra 300 calories per day (www.cnn.com, October 16, 2003). Even a Centers of Disease Control and Prevention report says that carbohydrates are the reason why Americans, especially women, have been eating increasing numbers of calories over the past 30 years (Yahoo! News 2/5/2004). Television reports have linked the obesity epidemic with the government farm support policy, which ensures a steady supply of cheap corn and wheat to the processing industry. According to the Corn Refiners Association, such reports are “little more than a subjective attack on the tens of thousands of hard-working Americans in the corn growing and refining industries who provide our families with the safest, most abundant and affordable food supply in the world (southwestfarmpress.com).” Star, the tabloid, weighs in on the side of bread and pasta with a report that low-carb diets make stars crabby (3/22/2004). And since outright propaganda has not worked to convince the American public that carbohydrates help you lose weight, the industry has infiltrated enemy lines to change the basic Atkins message. Collette Heimowitz, director of research and education for Atkins Nutritionals, is telling health professionals in seminars around the coutnry that only 20 percent of a dieter’s calories should come from saturated fat (Patriot Ledger 1/19/2004). The Atkins regimen remains a high-fat diet, say company officials, but dieters should increase the kind that comes from vegetable oils and fish, rather than saturated fats from meat, cheese and butter. The company has also launched a massive marketing campaign for Atkins Advantage bars and powders based on soy protein isolate and sweetened with Splenda.
A recent mad cow incident has uncovered certain facts about the widespread use of compounds derived from cows. The use of cowhide for belts and shoes, bovine gelatin in gel capsules and tallow in bars of soap is common knowledge. But bovine compounds show up in many other surprising places: bovine fatty acids in asphalt roads, glycerine extracted from cow fat in nitroglycerine for explosives; glue derived from cow’s blood in plywood; protein extracted from horns and hooves in foam for fire extinguishers; “catgut” made from the small intestines in tennis rackets and surgical sutures; catalase, a liver enzyme, in contact lens care products; and pregastric lipase extracted from the root gland of the tongue used as a curdling agent in cheese production. But the most surprising list of uses belongs to supplements and pharmaceuticals that people take because they are not obtaining enough of the nutrients that they could get if they ate more beef: cow’s nasal septum processed into chondroitin sulfate for arthritis; heparin, a blood thinner, derived from cow’s lungs and intestines to prevent clots; and adrenal glands processed to make epinephrine, used to treat hay fever, asthma and other allergies (Washington Times, 1/14/2003).When people used to put these bovine parts into sausage, scrapple, haggis and puddings, they got the benefits without expensive pills.
The adventures of filmaker Morgan Spurlock have ricocheted throughout the internet. Spurlock produced a documentary called Super Size Me: A Film of Epic Portions which he presented at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Spurlock chronicled his decline in health over a one-month period when he ate three meals a day, every day, at McDonald’s. He gained over 25 pounds, began vomiting after just three days on the diet, battled with headaches and depression and his sex drive vanished. Most shocking was the development of liver abnormalities, confirmed by blood tests. Predictably, articles about the movie blamed the decline in liver function on saturated fats. Never mind that saturated fats are known to protect liver function, here’s the question we pose: where are the saturated fats in the McDonald’s meal? There’s not more than a few grams of saturated fat in the thin beef hamburger (30 percent of which can be made up of soy protein); otherwise, the fats in the McDonald’s meal are partially hydrogenated vegetable oils–in the bread, fries, McNuggets, dressings and desserts. Once again, the media are tarring saturated fats with the black brush of trans fatty acids. We expect more of the same as commentators make a meal out of McDonald’s CEO Jim Cantalupo’s sudden heart attack death at age 60.
Red Meat for Valentine’s Day?
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a new ad alerting men and their partners of the link between fatty, meat-haeavy diets and erectile dysfunction has aired on CNN, ESPN and Lifetime, thanks to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). The ad, titled “Room 103,” depicts a romantic hotel room and a steamy sexual encounter that comes to a crashing halt because of failure to perform. The camera then pans to the remains of what the couple had for dinner: a meat-heavy, high-fat dinner on the room service tray. The ad ends with the tag line, “Eating meat contributes to artery blockages–and that can make you impotent.” The press release specifically targets the Atkins diet, high in meat and saturated fats, as a cause of erectile dysfunction, claiming that high cholesterol levels contribute to impotence (pcrm.org/news./health040209.html). That’s strange, because impotence is a common side effect of cholesterol-lowering regimes–after all, testosterone is made out of cholesterol. Just a few decades ago the Kellogg brothers promoted cereals to the American public as a way to reduce excessive sexual activity, thought to be caused by the overheating properties of a high intake of meat!
Much research has linked low levels of serum cholesterol with “dominance aggression” in humans. Now we learn that low cholesterol causes the same problem in dogs. Scientists found that aggressive dogs had levels of total cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol and triglycerides significantly lower than dogs who were gentle (J Vet Med A Physiol Pathol Clin Med 2003 Sep;50(7);339-42). Here’s a thought: since soy lowers cholesterol, and since many brands of dog food contain soy, is the soy in dogfood causing dogs to be more aggressive than they used to be?
Saturated Fats and Diabetes
A study out of the University of Minnesota (Am J Clin Nutr 2003 July;78(1):91-8), and reported in the December, 2003 issue of Prevention magazine, found that “among 3000 people tested, those with the highest blood levels of saturated fats were twice as likely to develop diabetes as those with the lowest.”According to Aaron Folsom, MD, one author of the study, “Saturated fats in the blood appear to affect your body’s ability to effectively use insulin, the hallmark of type-2 diabetes.” Naturally this report was followed by warnings not to eat saturated fats like butter, cream and the fat on meat. But Dr. Folsom makes an error common to those not trained in fatty acid metabolism. A high level of saturated fatty acids in the blood is reflective of high carbohydrate intake and subsequent synthesis of fatty acids from excess carbohydrates. Saturated fatty acids are not an appropriate marker of dietary fat intake, but are rather a marker of carbohydrate intake. What the researchers at the University of Minnesota actually discovered (or rather, reaffirmed) was that people who eat a lot of carbohydrates are more likely to develop diabetes.
E. sakazakii is a bug that can cause meningitis and severe gut infections in babies. Researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands tested samples of powdered infant formula from four infant formula factories; samples from all but one of the factories tested positive for the organism. Dr. Jeffrey Farber, from the Bureau of Microbial Hazards at Health Canada, cites a growing number of outbreaks of infection among newborns as “compelling evidence” that milk-based powdered infant formulas are a source of contamination (http://news.bbc.ci.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/health/3359427.stm). This report confirms what a representative of the formula industry told us several years ago–that milk (and presumably soy) powders are never sterile, so powdered infant formula always poses the risk of infection. (Liquid, ready-mixed formulas have been heat treated but that does not always guarantee safety either, and the liquid formulas contain carageenan and other undesirable additives.) Clean raw whole milk is actually a safer alternative than powdered formula, and also a safer alternative than most supermarket milk, which has powdered milk added.
The Wealth of Parma
There’s been quite a lot in the papers these days about the demise of Parmalat, the giant Italian dairy company that introduced UHT milk to the world market. The company went bankrupt with a debt of something like eight billion euro, wiping out the equity of 80,000 investors and leaving thousands of dairy farmers throughout the world in the lurch. What caught our eye in all the articles on the subject was the first paragraph of a story in the Washington Post (1/10/2004): “PARMA, Italy–The agricultural wealth that nurtured this central Italian town, with its stone mansions and its gilded opera house, was for centuries produced largely by small merchants, their ambitions extending no further than the next river valley.” Just a few days later, an article in The Week (1/16/2004) described the hopelessness of small towns in the midwest where family farms have been overrun by massive corporate farms and local communities are withering away. “Is there any hope?” asks the writer. “Not a lot,” is the reply. “Much of the Plains region is already well on the way to becoming a series of ghost towns, and experts say that unless the communities can reinvent their economies, the trend will continue.” Here’s our suggestion: why not reinvent your economies along the lines of Parma, Italy, and build wealth by producing first class cheese and hams. UHT milk and commodity markets cannot build stone mansions for farmers and guilded opera houses for small towns–only local value added over many years can do that.
Life as Irony
Hanna Barysevich of Minsk, Belarus has reached the ripe old age of 116 years on a diet of homemade sausages, pork fat, milk and bread (Herald-Sun, Raleigh-Durham May 6, 2004). Meanwhile, Brian Maxwell, world class marathon runner and inventor of the PowerBar, promoted as scientifically formulated to provide energy to athletes and support optimal health, has died at the age of 51.
Why You Can Actually Be Too Thin
Fat cells, called adipocytes, are often blamed for conditions like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, but they may actually protect us against these illnesses. Researchers at Purdue University have discovered that pig fat cells (very similar to human fat cells) help regulate energy metabolism, anti-inflammatory pathways and certain aspects of the body’s immune response that protect us against bacterial toxins. In addition, normal adipocytes produce factors that promote insulin regulation of glucose levels. These regulatory mechanisms are thwarted in the case of obesity, when the adipocytes enlarge due to lipid accumulation (sciencedaily.com, April 1, 2004). This research gives new meaning to the phrase “pleasingly plump.” A nice layer of fat–not too much but also not too little–goes a long way to ensuring good health.
When carotenes were at the top of the vitamin Hit Parade, researchers looked at whether man-made carotenes could protect against lung cancer in men who smoked. They were disappointed: those taking synthetic carotenes actually had more cancer than controls (NEJM, April 1994 330;(15):1029-1035). Today, research attention is focused on conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a nutrient that occurs in large quantities in the fat and butterfat of grass-fed beef and lamb, which has been shown to promote weight loss. Since modern agriculture is geared towards factory farming, not grass-feeding, vitamin companies have promoted a synthetic version. Researchers at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Frederiksberg, Denmark analyzed 13 randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies on CLA supplementation in humans and found that CLA consumption had no effect on body weight in any of the studies. One study found that CLA supplements decreased insulin sensitivty, raised fasting plasma glucose levels, and increased the concentration of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation and an independent predictor of cardiovascular risk. The authors also noted evidence that manmade CLA may produce enlargement of the liver and insulin resistence (J Lipid Res 2003;44:2234-2241). The reason: the particular mixture of isomers in synthetic CLA differs considerably from that of natural CLA and this mixture produces adverse effects. Just another example of the old adage: you can’t improve on Mother Nature.
John Komlos, professor at the University of Munich, has been charting trends in height throughout the world for most of his career. He notes that in Northern Europe over the past twelve hundred years, human stature has followed a U-shaped curve: from a high around 800 AD to a low sometime in the seventeenth century, and back up again. For Komlos, height provides a kind of biological shorthand for a society’s well-being–and an indication of the amount and quality of food available to the people–and this shorthand indicates that America was a good place to live in the eighteenth century. Both white colonists and black slaves were a good three inches taller than the average European of the time. During the Civil War period, the average American height dropped somewhat, but by the end of the nineteenth century, Americans had regained the distinction of being the tallest peoples in the civilized world. Since 1955, however, the average height of Europeans and Asians has increased while the height of Americans has remained flat or even fallen. Today Northern Europeans are three inches taller than the average American–Dutch men average six feet one and Dutch women average five feet eight. Americans also rank 28th among industrialized countries in longevity. The decline in height runs across all classes and racial groups. Komlos and his colleagues recognize that diet plays a major role in determining height, noting that both the wealthy and the impoverished in America today consume mostly processed food (The New Yorker, April 5, 2004). Where they are wrong is the suggestion that eating more fruits and vegetables will make a population taller. To attain the imposing height and general good looks that characterized Americans during the Second World War, we’ll need to start eating animal fats again, and drink the kind of milk that we had during the first half of the twentieth century–raw, whole milk from pastured cows.
Vitamin A Confusion
British consumers are getting mixed messages about vitamin A. Researchers at Cardiff University looked at the effect of cod liver oil on cartilage health in 31 patients on a National Health Service waiting list for total knee joint replacement surgery. Half were given extra high strength cod liver oil providing about 2400 IU vitamin A daily. At the time of surgery, samples of cartilage and joint tissue were taken from the knee joint and subjected to analysis. Markers for cartilage damage were significantly reduced in those taking cod liver oil. According to the researchers, “The data suggests that cod liver oil has a dual mode of action, potentially slowing down the cartilage degeneration inherent in osteoarthritis and also reducing factors that cause pain and inflammation” (www.cf.ac.uk, February 12, 2004). Meanwhile, other British officials are warning against vitamin A overdose, claiming that vitamin A from foods like liver can weaken the bones–this erroneous conclusion comes from studies that confound synthetic with natural vitamin A. Surveys found that many Britons get “too much” vitamin A by eating liver. A single 100-gram serving of liver can contain from 16,000 – 36,000 IU vitamin A, a dose that exceeds the puny 2400 IU maximum recommended amount by as much as 15 fold. Yet today we eat far less liver than in former times, and pregnant women were formerly encouraged to eat liver several times per week. Such is the confusion of medical researchers that officials are now considering whether to issue an advisory against eating liver–pregnant women are already warned against eating this highly nutritious superfood (http://news.bbc.co.uk, January 16, 2004).