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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fat Doesn’t “Flush”!

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just “flush” your excess body fat down the toilet? Overweight people love that idea, so they’re vulnerable to anyone who promises that they can simply “flush” their fat away. The problem is that “fat flushing” doesn’t work.

Body fat isn’t waste, it’s stored energy. It’s like money in the bank. Your body doesn’t want to “flush” that away! Even if it wanted to, it couldn’t.

Your body has a limited number of ways to get rid of waste. Carbon dioxide leaves your body through your lungs. In hot weather, you can lose a lot of water and salt through your sweat glands. However, most of what we think of as waste leaves the body through either the kidneys or the liver.

You can’t flush fat from the body through the kidneys. If you could, you’d end up seeing an oil slick on top of your urine. It’s not normal to pass any significant amount of fat in the urine. The presence of even small amounts of fat in the urine is called lipiduria. It’s a sign of a serious medical condition, such as severe kidney disease or a fracture in a large bone.

The liver breaks down a lot of toxins and other substances. It can also put some waste products into a fluid called bile. The bile then passes into the small intestine. However, the intestines then reabsorb much of what the liver had put into the bile. The material that is reabsorbed then gets carried straight back to the liver.

If your liver were flushing fat out of your body, the fat would be going into your small intestine. Then it would get reabsorbed and carried straight back to the liver. If you were losing a significant amount of fat through your intestines, you would end up passing a lot of fat in your feces. So unless you are finding lots of fat in your toilet bowl, you simply aren’t “flushing” fat from your body.

One popular author of diet books promotes what she calls a “fat flush” diet. However, her diet can’t overcome the basic biology of the human body. Although that author doesn’t have the kind of scientific credentials that she pretends to have, she probably knows that you can’t flush fat from the liver. That’s why her “fat flush” regimen also includes a severely low-calorie diet. So while the dieters imagine that they are flushing their fat, they are actually losing weight the conventional way, by eating a low fewer calories than they burn up.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bourbon and potato chips are vegan!

My Web site and blog are about healthy food. I want people to know what science really says about how diet affects human health. For example, we know that eating animal-based foods raises the risk of a whole host of diseases, including heart disease, many cancers, and autoimmune diseases. The less animal-based food you eat, the safer you can be from those diseases. So the health-optimizing diet for human beings would be free from animal products. It could therefore be classified as vegan. Although all healthy foods are vegan, not all vegan foods are healthy. For example, no one would consider bourbon and potato chips to be the basis for a healthy diet.

The first vegetarians I met were vegetarian for religious reasons. They included some Hindu people who had been born in India and some Seventh-Day Adventists from the USA. I’ve also known observant Jews who would eat in vegetarian restaurants because everything that’s vegetarian is automatically Kosher. I also know a lot of people who refuse for moral reasons to eat any products that come from animals. All of the people I’ve just described can eat at my house without violating any of their dietary laws. Since I’m allergic to wheat, everything that I cook is even kosher for Passover. However, not everything that passes muster in their dietary laws is good for them.

To be truly health-optimizing for the average person, a diet also has to be low in fat (<10% of calories) and high in fiber. Some of the foods that contain no animal products are nevertheless high in fat or low in fiber. A high-fat, low-fiber vegan diet could promote atherosclerosis, even though it doesn’t contain any cholesterol. That’s why even vegans occasionally die of heart attacks.

When I was growing up, I was taught in school that the meat group (which includes eggs and fish) and the dairy group (which includes all milk products) are an essential part of a balanced diet for human beings. However, when I grew up and started reading nutrition and medical textbooks and scientific journals, I found strong evidence that those foods are dangerous and unnecessary. So far, I haven’t found any evidence that any human beings would really benefit from adding animal-based foods to an otherwise healthy plant-based diet. I found plenty of evidence that cats need certain nutrients that occur only in animals, and are not produced by plants or bacteria. However, I’ve seen no such evidence for human nutrition. If I find it, I will report it. Then, the decision of whether to eat those foods will be a moral decision, not a health decision.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quick, but temporary weight loss! This time from France!

I just heard about a “new” diet: the Dukan diet. It’s from France! It promises four steps to permanent weight loss! It promises that people will lose weight while eating as much as they like! The problem is that this “new” diet isn’t really new. It’s just South Beach with a French accent. The quick results from the first phase aren’t from fat loss. Nor will your weight problem be permanently cured by the end of the program, regardless of what Dr. Dukan says. It’s just more false hope for desperate people.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Don’t Snatch the Food out of Your Child’s Mouth!

I just read a really disturbing article on Peggy Orenstein’s Web site. In Fear of Fatness, Orenstein talks about the bias that even young children have against fat people, and the troubles that fat girls and their parents face. I was particularly horrified by the plight of one mother, who was so frustrated by her 5-year-old daughter’s fatness that she admits that she “fights the urge just to snatch the food out of the child’s mouth.” This is an unnatural problem.

No mother in nature tries to protect her offspring by snatching food out of its mouth. This unnatural problem results from the unnatural diet that is standard in the United States. Mothers are supposed to feed and nurture their children. Why are American mothers struggling to limit their children’s portions?

If the child were being fed the kinds of food that naturally slim populations eat, then the weight problem and the struggle for portion control would simply vanish. The child would also avoid early puberty and have a low risk of breast cancer in adulthood.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Polycystic ovary syndrome: the diabetes of bearded women

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a major cause of infertility among young women in the United States. It’s also nature’s way of telling women that they’re eating the wrong kinds of food. Cutting her fat intake to 10% or less of her total calories can restore the woman’s fertility and is important for protecting her health, especially if she becomes pregnant.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Magic Realism of a Healthy Diet

Magic Realism is a literary style that explores the seemingly magical effects of commonplace things. Consider, for example, the following scene from One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Marquez. Melquíades is an old gypsy who normally comes to the village once a year with a group of gypsy peddlers who sell wondrous and magical goods and services, such as magnets and magic carpet rides. Melquíades looks older than his true age because he has lost his teeth to scurvy. Yet one year, Melquíades shows up with his teeth magically restored. To everyone’s amazement, he can actually take the teeth out of his mouth, along with his gums, making himself look old again. He can put the teeth back in, making himself look young again.

The reader knows that there's nothing magical about a set of false teeth. However, the villagers have never seen anything like it before. Dentures are outside the scope of their personal experience. Therefore, the transformation produced by a set of dentures seems like magic to them. Similarly, a truly healthy diet is simply outside the scope of personal experience for the average American. As a result, we think that it’s normal for people to get fat and sick in middle age. We think that it’s normal for middle-aged and elderly people to have to take a fistful of prescription medications every day. Thus, the effects of a truly healthy diet might seem magical to us.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Weight and Cholesterol: When Average Is Abnormal

I just discovered that I’m normal, which means that I’m way below average. I’m 5 foot 5 inches tall and weigh about 125 pounds. That gives me a body mass index of 20.8, which is normal. Yet it also means that I’m skinnier than about 95% of the American women my age. To become officially overweight, I’d have to gain at least 25 pounds. To be as fat as the average American, I’d have to gain a total of 40 pounds. To qualify as obese, I’d have to gain a total of 50 pounds.

If you live in the United States, you have probably noticed that most of the people around you weigh more than they should. That’s because you probably know, more or less instinctively, what healthy people are supposed to look like. Unfortunately, we can’t automatically recognize that some of our other measurements, such as our total cholesterol values, are also wildly abnormal. That’s because nobody has an instinctive feel for what healthy blood values are supposed to be. It’s tempting to evaluate them by comparing them to the average values for our population, but how can we tell if the average value in our population is normal or abnormal?

The U.S. federal government’s “Healthy People 2010” guidelines regarded total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL as “high” and a level of 200 mg/dL as “desirable.” Yet people are still at risk for heart disease as long as their total cholesterol is above 150 mg/dL. The last time my blood was tested, my total cholesterol was 120 mg/dL. According to statistics from the Centers from Diseases Control and Prevention, my total cholesterol level is unusually low. More than 95% of the Americans in my age-group have a total cholesterol value that’s way higher than mine. Yet I suspect that my cholesterol levels, like my weight, are normal and healthy. It’s the average person who’s dangerously abnormal.

The numbers are staggering. People whose cholesterol level is “high” by American standards (over 240 mg/dL) have more than twice as much cholesterol in their blood as I have. The average American has a total cholesterol level of about 200 mg/dL. This means that even the average person has far more cholesterol in his or her blood than I do. No wonder their arteries are getting clogged!

My blood cholesterol level may seem amazingly low, but it’s about average for someone in rural China. In the late 1990s, the China-Cornell-Oxford Project found that the average total cholesterol level in rural Chinese people was 127 mg/dL. As a result, heart attacks were rare in China. Overall, American men were 17 times as likely as Chinese men to get a heart attack. American women were about 6 times as likely as Chinese women to get heart attacks.

In some areas of rural China, coronary artery disease was practically nonexistent. A population of a few hundred thousand people could go for a couple of years without anyone under age 65 dying of a coronary. Not one person. The study didn’t analyze the causes of death among the elderly, but there probably weren’t many coronaries among people over 65, either.

Why were cholesterol values and rates of coronary artery disease so low in China? The study showed that diet makes the difference. Overall, the Chinese were eating only about a tenth as much animal protein and three times as much fiber as Americans were eating. The less animal protein people ate, the lower their cholesterol values were, and the less likely they were to die of heart disease and various cancers. There didn’t seem to be any “safe” level of intake of animal protein. Eating even a small amount of animal protein produced a small but measurable increase in risk. On the other hand, the more vegetables people ate, the safer they were.

My cholesterol values look like those of someone from rural China because I eat no animal protein but lots of rice and other grains and vegetables and beans and fruit. Anyone who thinks that this kind of diet is boring or unsatisfying has simply never had dinner at my house.

I know from reading the scientific literature on nutrition that people in the United States could dramatically improve their health and increase their life expectancy by shifting from the standard American diet, with its heavy emphasis on animal protein and its heavy load of fat, to a diet based on unrefined plant foods. This simple correction in the diet would enable people to drop to a normal weight without counting calories or limiting their portions. It would practically eliminate heart disease and greatly reduce the risk of other diseases. So why doesn’t our government tell us about this?

Worse yet, our government is still urging people to eat animal protein. Although the Healthy People 2020 goals supposedly “reflect strong science,” their dietary advice flies in the face of what we learned from the China-Cornell-Oxford study. In particular, the healthypeople.gov Web site says the following: “Americans with a healthful diet consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods within and across the food groups, especially whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free milk or milk products, and lean meats and other protein sources.” Since we know from the China-Cornell-Oxford study that eating animal protein is the major contributing cause of our major cause of death, and that there’s no safe level of intake of such foods, why in the name of good common sense is our government saying that a diet that includes these foods is healthful?