“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Bertrand Russell
“NEVER eat ingredients you cannot pronounce. … Except quinoa. You should eat quinoa.” Random Funny Person
Welcome back to the Intelligent Eater – the part of my Diletantric (invented word) writings that makes you feel bad about that shitty diet you’re eating, and then tries to help.
Although, who are we kidding?! You are very unlikely to listen to me anyway, so you might as well just go eat some more Gushers and Cheetos.
Kidding. (Well, actually, diet compliance research suggests that I am not kidding).
Two of my most recent articles discussed the Green-light and Red-Light foods. These are the foods that Researchers, as opposed to Public Interfacers (if you don’t know what those terms mean, I suggest you start here), agree are probably healthy and unhealthy, respectfully (uch…”respectfully” – get over yourself!).
To give credit where it’s most certainly due, I’ve adopted and adapted this traffic-light system from one of my favorite evidence-based Public Interfacers: Dr Michael Greger (pic right). However, it is different in a few important ways
including what actually makes the lists and how they operate. As far as I can tell, Dr. Greger’s Yellows foods are ones we should limit – mine are pointing out foods about which the data seem to be inconclusive, and so I am saying to either avoid or experiment and measure.
The foods that made those lists likely did not shock you.
“Wow – kale and broccoli are healthy, sugar and alcohol are unhealthy. Thanks, Justin! What a superb little researcher you are!”
I agree, not exactly rocket science. (Though, I do think you could drop that unappreciative tone, fatzo. Kidding. Again, sort of.).
However, what may have surprised (or irritated) you were the things that were missing from that list. These are the foods like grass-fed meat and whole-wheat bread and organic milk and soy and sea salt and free-range eggs and coconut oil, that we’ve been told by countless Public Interfacers or parents or friends or trainers or whomever, that we should eat them because they are “healthy.”
And due to that (and probably a bit of your own faults), these foods have likely made up a large part of your diet. And I’m not even talking about the Standard American Diet which is made up of just as much Red Light foods as Yellow. I am talking about my probable audience. Ones that are mostly informed to some degree, about what is generally healthy.
The one’s who probably say: “yea, I mean, I’ll eat healthy during the week, but from Thursday – Sunday, it’s basically anything goes.”
And yet, your favorite foods – the one’s that you are counting as “healthy” from Monday through Thursday – are missing from the Green-Light list – that list of foods that Researchers seem to agree are healthy. Sorry, Charley.
But – Charley is it (?) – the good news, Charley, is that these foods also did not make the Red-Light list – the list of foods that Researchers seem to mostly agree are about as beneficial to your brain and body as would be a Jake the Snake DDT.
Or real DDT, for that matter, which Researchers have found in some of the foods on the below list!
So, you know, you’re still probably not doin’ great… whether from Jake the Snake, or the real-life poison – DDT kinda sucks.
Anyways, if you haven’t totally poisoned yourself and you still have some time to live, this article will help us complete the cycle (and hopefully help to save you from it).
How To Use This Article
This thing is an effin’ BEAR – there’s no way around it. It is meant to be a reference guide, not necessarily to be read all in one sitting. Though, if you have the interest and patience, have at it.
I suggest reading the beginning and then choosing a topic at a time you’d like to read about, say, meat. Then, next time, you can come back to the article and take a look at what the Researchers the say on dairy, or soy.
Ok, you get it.
For your reading pleasure, I have tried to design it in such a way that makes it extremely easy to navigate and refer back to.
In fact, if you click on the below outline, it will jump ahead to that part of the article. Also, at the beginning of The Yellow Light List, I have also created jump-cuts to each food. [Sorta like a Jump-To-Conclusions Mat].
***To see the summary of my findings – CLICK HERE
Warning: This article is not really meant to be read in one sitting. It is more of a massive, massive guide that took over a month’s worth of research, pulling on years worth of reading and testing. Certain foods on the list – meat for instance – is very detailed and long given that it is widely controversial.
Warning#2: this article contains gluten.
Warning#3: If you haven’t noticed, I’m really, really funny, so there are going to be a lot more (average-to-quite-average) jokes like Warning #2 throughout this article. Be prepared.
That is all to say – hop around at your leisure. Go ahead, cherry pick only the parts you care about. You can always come back to it (aka you’ll never come back to it – you always say you will, but then do you?).
And, I swear, I won’t be offended or deeply, deeply hurt if you read only the summaries and don’t read the text that I slaved over for hours and hours just to share with you what I have learned and for which I expect nothing in return. I swear. Really. It’s fine. It’s fine.
For Each item on the list – each Yellow-Light Food – I provide: (i) a quick anecdote, (ii)I explain the way Public Interfacers typically discuss it, (iii) I show the research on each side, and then (iv) I end with how I currently eat.
At the beginning of the entire list, I have a quick-hitter summary of each food. Then at the beginning of each food, I summarize (i) the data, (ii) my (current) conclusion and (iii) how I eat (or skip) that food.
I designed it to be able to read as thoroughly or as briefly as you’d like -so enjoy.
Ok, without further stalling – let’s go back a few years to a time when I was initially researching all this crap and was so baffled to the point of becoming enraged (I hadn’t yet started to meditate at that point)…
So Which Is It? Carbs Or No Carbs?.
Approximately three years ago, I was knee-deep into my nutrition research and experimentation life. I had already read a closet full of books and research articles, and had tried all kinds of diets and workouts and I was feeling pretty knowledgeable.
But then, upon the mere sight of two books, side-by-side, all of my confidence drained immediately – a drainage I can compare only to the immediate humor cliff-dive any Friends episode takes once everyone exits stage left, other than Joey and Phoebe:
Joey: “How you doin’?”
Phoebe: “[Insert something frantic and air-headed]”
Cue audience laugh-track…
My frustration only grew as I tore into both of these books.
Why? What was so appalling about these two books? Well, let’s start with the (seemingly) good stuff.
On the plus side, they were both books by accredited and (seemingly) credible experts on the topics of diet and nutrition. They were both doctors and written heavily on the subject.
Additionally, both books came packed with citations to different research articles ostensibly confirming all these “experts” were saying.
Now where it started to turn on me.
Each author was claiming something as true – with conviction and references – and claiming that the other side either had it wrong, or worse, was purposely misleading us. In true debate form – where no one hears the other, but merely their own perspectives – the other author would (if we were actually in a live debate) turn around and dismiss these conclusions out-of-hand.
One claimed that whole grains and starchy veggies were essentially our savior. The other claimed that grains and starches were essentially death and that lean animal protein and non-starchy veggies would overturn disease in this country and help us thrive!
“We humans are built to thrive on starch. The more rice, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beans we eat, the trimmer, more energetic, and healthier we become.”
From the other (referring to a major mistake people make):
“Turning to another form of an unhealthy grain substitute, like buckwheat, brown rice flour, millet, or some of the other grain or non grain flours — because those are typically very high in carbohydrates.A bread made of buckwheat; if you have more than a little bit, you have sky high blood sugars, which will turn off weight-loss, and contribute to such things as weight gain, Type 2 diabetes risk, dementia, cancer, heart disease.”
Their titles were even comically opposite. The latter book was called Wheat Belly, by William Davis M.D. – indicating that wheat and other starchy foods were the cause of our countries obese, disease and cancerous bellies.
The former: The Starch Solution by another doctor, John McDougal, M.D. He claimed, of course, the exact opposite.
Is it Meat or Wheat? Starchy Veggies or Eggs? Soy or Greek Yogurt?
To get a good sense of how blatant and crazy this is, watch this 2011 video from Charlie Rose (whoops) for about 5-10 minutes. It will blow your mind how three “experts” (and one actual Researcher) completely disagree about what to eat for breakfast! (I was directed to this video by Dr. Bob Blum’s blog – a masterclass on how to think about food).
In this article, I grapple with those questions and more and tell you about the approach that I tend to take.
Now, to show you that this problem of complete disagreement and confusion is in no way unique to nutrition – a couple scenes from an Italian argument. (“Wait, I don’t get it. Italian argument? What is that?!” It’s an allusion to a Billy Joel song, ham-head. And that was an allusion to Richie Rich, poopy pants. And that was an allusion to… guess.)[By the way – if you’re so impatient that you would have likely failed the Marshmallow Test, feel free to skip ahead, pudgy. Jk.]
Money Ball and That Whole “Yale” Thing
Scene #1: Money Ball
Brad Pitt and a quite plump, Jonah Hill, are sitting at the head of a table opposite a group of unamused and ya-what-is-it-now-you-naïve-little-pests thinking, old baseball scouts that look like they are in their 100s.
Pitt is the new General Manager for the Oakland Athletics (the real-life Billy Beane) – a Major League Baseball team that just lost practically all of their best players to the richest and best teams in the league. Jonah Hill plays, Peter Brand (not the real guy’s name), a young economist with a different approach to determining how to fill an MLB roster – or , as Major League’s, Rube, calls it, a “rooster.”
Pitt and Hill have one way of looking at the problem the A’s ball club is facing, and the long-time scouts, or “experts,” have another way of looking at it. The former is based mostly on data, the latter based almost wholly on experience.
This, I want to point out, is OK. Many times, as on, for instance, the Supreme Court nearly every single day, reasonable people disagree about things. There is no issue here for me – as long as we acknowledge that fact of disagreement and lack of consensus.
The problem, as Pitt points out to the recalcitrant Scouts, is that they think they KNOW the answer. They think they KNOW, merely by looking at a player and drawing on their intuition, and they are so convinced of it that they are unwilling to look at the data.
But as Pitt says– they think they know – but they don’t. Nobody does. And so we need a new way to view the issue.
Scene #2: Politics
“The idea that no one really knew how to run a government led to the idea that we should arrange a system by which new ideas could be developed, tried out, and tossed out if necessary, with more new ideas brought in — a trial and error system.” Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman
We all have that friend or family member or teacher or someone with whom we know we do not want to engage in political argument.
But this isn’t for fear of “losing” the argument. Rather, it is because this person already “knows” the answer. And so there is no point of having the conversation.
These people likely make very assured claims in the form of long Facebook-post harangues, or YouTube diatribes, or [insert a type of forum + arrogant word that is synonymous with long, drawn-out speech].
And it ain’t limited to your friends and family (or you). It’s also the so-called experts on TV.
Take, for instance, a 60 year old, single, blonde / silver-slick-back, pot-head who plays the roll of half-comedian, half-politician, switching back and forth between the two whenever it suits his argument and his conveniently-home-team, liberal audience. (Note to Bill – I love you, please forgive me).
Now pit that dude against a 45 or 50 year old bozo who wears a bow tie and sets his stage for people to argue directly past and through one another for 30 minutes. That is actually the format of the show. [Click here to see Jon Stewart at his best with Tucker Carlson. It’s very enjoyable.] (Note to Tucker – you’re a doofus).
These people – the Facebook Friend to the blatantly bias host – make the same exact error as the scouts and the nutrition experts. They claim they know the answer. This sinks any chance of growth.
As author Ryan Holiday points out in Ego is the Enemy:
[Click here for my lil’ 3-min diddy on Holiday’s best-seller, The Obstacle is The Way]
“The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better.”
And, what’s more, they shout it out. They get angry about it.
But here’s the thing: whether we are talking about baseball scouting or politics or nutrition, the actual experts the life-time politicians and political researchers – they DISAGREE on some things.
Take economic policy for example. The professors from Yale and Harvard who have studied trickle-down economics versus wealth democratization have not come out with any conclusive data. They don’t know the answer!
And so, how would it be that Bill Maher or Tucker Carlson know? Much less your friends or your uncle at the sports bar after a pints of Guinness?
My Guess: they don’t.
The Yellow Light Theory
So what do we do then?
If we don’t know what is healthy. If even the experts disagree. Then what should we do?
Well, the first part of that answer is to tend towards the Green-Light Foods and away from the Red-Light foods and proceed with caution with the below “Yellow Light” foods. Again, that general theory is laid out here.
But there are a few ways you can approach “taking caution.” I have come across four approaches – and I believe some are better than others.
Multiple Personalities to Deal With Uncertainty
(1) The Helpless or Tough Guy Approach. This approach has two extremes but they are two sides of the same coin. And that coin is saying: “I am going to live my life, these diet guys can’t make up their mind anyway, I can’t do anything about it, I have bad genetics, real men don’t eat salads!” In summary – I’m just going to do what I want or nothing about it. This is the Peter from Office Space [“I’m just gonna stop going.”].
This is like when Austin Powers’s blackjack hand totals at five and he elects to stay. Why? Because he “also likes to live dangerously.” He loses the hand…
Comparable: typical old man who is set in his ways or busy person who is “doing what they can”
(2) The Risk-Taker Approach. This is sort of the reckless approach. The person either knows of, or has decided to turn a blind eye to, any research that contradicts the food that he wants to eat. But he wants to eat it not because of the “Tough guy” (or gal) or live-my-life thing – it is to gain something out of the foods that the proponents guarantee. This is someone who goes on the bulletproof diet (or merely puts fat in their coffee) or the high-fat, no-carb ketogenic diet without fully investigating possible risks. Or, these people know the risks but are after the great power promised by a high animal protein diet or the speed promised by the Keto folk.
Comparable: Some of the self-proclaimed “Biohackers” of the world (some of them are also “Little Scientists”) or regular people who want to “live life”
(3) The Risk-Avoider Approach. “There is too much negative press about that one thing, I am going to lay off it until the Researchers sort it out. What do I know? Certainly not more than they do.” If you feel like too much of a puss or feel like you are “missing out” too much with this approach – you can rest assured on two things I have seen repeated many times that might be true: (i) according to billionaire investor, Ray Dalio, we tend to over-estimate how comfortable we are with taking risks and (ii) This “missing out” feeling fades over time.
Comparable: Religious or Strict-diet raw food type person
♦The same result here is accomplished by a distant cousin, The Abstainer. This person is not eating out of ideology like Vegan, or Adventist, or whatever. They are similar in result but different thinking process. The Abstainer says no at the start. The Avoider says it case-by-case.
(4) The Little Scientist. The little scientist employs a little that I made up. I call it the “Scientific Method” (pronounced Sci-En-Tif-Ic M-Eth-Od). She isolates one variable (i.e. Picks one Yellow Light food), eats it in small amounts without changing anything else, and then measures and tests what happens.
NOTE: This might look like the Risk-Taker, but it is not for two important reasons: (i) it is testing a Yellow in a small dose and (ii) there is a measurement component assuring that if bad things are happening, she can stop and mitigate damage.
Comparable: Tim Ferriss, Dr. Rhonda Patrick (actual scientist)
Which One Do I Take: I take a mix between the Risk-Avoider and The Little Scientist. Or at least that’s the goal. Do I sometimes get into a helpless mode? Sometimes – but I try to minimize that feeling by focusing on long-term goals. I never get into a tough guy mode – well, not anymore, but I used to.
I think the safest and healthiest approaches are #3 and #4.
The Yellow Light List (Aka proceed with caution cause we don’t know)
How To Navigate This List
For each food on the List, I have provided:
- A Snap-Shot Summary
- A Related Story or Analogy
- Anecdotal (Public Interfacer) arguments we tend to here on both sides
- The Research
- My Conclusion
You will notice – we are talking about the very best forms of all of these products. WE don’t want to obscure the conversation, like many books and articles do, with the shittier forms of these products. We want to know, at their very best, are these things heathy or not.
Because I care about you 🙂 – here is a list of what is discussed below and my general findings based on the bulk of the research I’ve seen. The list summarizes into 700 words what over 13,000 words have detailed below!
It will take you less than five minutes to read.
Helpful Hint: Click on each food topic (e.g. Land Meat) in the “Yellow-Light Summary” below to jump to its place down the page.
I have also included a Summary at the beginning of each category if you just want to breeze through like you probably do with the rest of important things in your life. 🙂 Jk lol brb ttyl.
NOW – To the LIST!
My standard order at Chipotle for years was: burrito bowl, double chicken, add guac. I opted for the “double meat” option nearly everywhere, and, even at places where it wasn’t an option, I would just create it: “Hey, this is going to sound odd but, can you just grill a breast of chicken and put that on the side or something, too?”
In fact, while attending the University of Maryland, College Park, a town filled with Chipotle-and-Noodles-&-Co. type “restaurants,” I was once quoted as saying: “the key to College Park eating is double-meat.”
And so, like many people, my primary requirement in a healthy diet was PROTEIN! “Gotta get your protein, bro.” Crucially, protein, back then, connoted animal meat. I didn’t then realize that plants have protein too (how else do ya think the Triceratops got it?).
It seems I was predisposed to be extremely skeptical, and even resistant, to any data merely suggesting that meat might be anything other than absolutely key to optimal nutrition.
Eventually, however, a few years after undergrad, as I was really getting into the thick of nutrition literature, I kept coming across books, and eventually data, that suggested I might be missing something. More and more I was being told by what I considered to be reputable sources that there is something to this meat problem. And I felt that if I was really going to do what I was claiming I was doing – objectively reading and interpreting the nutrition data – then I couldn’t continue to willfully ignore this information.
And so, I investigated.
Here’s the thing – this argument, like many of the examples I gave above, is emotionally-charged and, as a result, heavily obscured by an ‘Us v. Them’ kind of thinking, rather than a truth-seeking conversation.
Before getting into this, I think it is important to first try and take a deep breath. Then say “wooosahhhh.” Now, try to suspend those kinds of thoughts of identity and who’s right and all those kinds of things, in order to get a clear view of the facts. Only then, it seems, can we make a good decision.
Great, now that we are passed that whole Vegans-are-hipster-doofuses-and-Paleos-are-animal-killers name-calling thing, let me lay out the general claims on each side. Then I’ll go through what the research seems to say and then I’ll give my position thus far.
This will be the most elaborately explained of the Yellows (with runners-up being Sea Meat (fish) and Whole Wheat) as it seems to conjure the most explosive barrage of explicatives.
Carnies: The carnivores generally surround their case around five major points:
- meat is the best source of “complete” protein there is
- meat has a massive amount of vitamins, minerals, “good” fats, and amino acids (proteins) all in once place
- Meat is integral to our development and has been for at least tens of thousands of years (including development of fetuses) and very few, if any cultures thrived on a 100% meatless diet
- For instance, for Tim Ferriss, the “argument-settling experience” was that several former-vegan women he met had miscarriages while vegan, then switched to meat and got pregnant
- Meat “optimizes” hormones – the major argument here seems to be for sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen
- Meat is better for fat-loss because of the “thermogenic effects” and satiation (satiation being important so you can avoid alternatives like grains and soy)
Veg-Heads: The anti-meat crowd likes to point out the following five things in response and in addition:
- The “complete protein” argument is a myth – you don’t need all amino acids in all meals – just eat for variety and you’ll be fine
- Additionally – the World Health Org recommendation for protein is ~ 50 grams per day and many beans have similar amounts of protein as meat per serving
- All vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are found in their best forms in plants
- In multiple, multiple, long-term, albeit epidemiological (read: correlations, not causation) studies, meat has been linked to higher rates of sickness, disease, cancer and death
- Additionally: The longest living cultures – the so-called Blue Zones – ate very little meat, and that was more as a garnish or celebration or sort of “treat” than anything
- As for Tim Ferriss’s Miscarriage Experience: this anecdotal piece of “experience” is controversial as we don’t know what those women were eating instead of meat and there doesn’t seem to be any fertility issues in low-meat-consuming cultures
- Testosterone actually goes UP in vegans. Cortisol (stress hormone) goes UP in meat eaters.
- Vegans are on average less obese and don’t complain of hunger – not withstanding the thermogenic effects.
A Couple Important Notes
Did We Evolve to Eat Meat? Many evolutionary biologists have credited meat with the unexplained growth of our brains during what was called the “cognitive revolution.” Given the density of calories and nutrients in one space, meat, the argument goes, is the food most likely to have lead to this sudden brain expansion. Additionally, we have an enzyme called elastase that assists with the breakdown and digestion of connective tissue. This, leads more credence to the view that humans evolved to eat meat.
Yes, all of this is compelling data for sure. But then, we don’t have the same food problems we used to. Now-a-days, we have more people dying from obesity (too much food) versus being malnourished. So even if meat was a massive reason for our cerebral ascension (a highly debated topic), does that necessarily mean it is the healthiest for us now?
As for the enzyme thing, many humans also have the enzyme lactase which helps to breakdown dairy products (those without it are “lactose intolerant”). However, many of these meat-eaters also advise to avoid dairy – so perhaps an enzyme that CAN do it, does not necessarily mean we SHOULD do it…right?
We also seem to have data on many populations that didn’t eat much meat at all. And those populations, in some instances, may have lived much longer, healthier lives.
Quality Meat v. Shitty Meat. As Ben Stiller has famously said, “This is hand-made, quality shit we’re talkin’ here” Not the shitty meat.
Shitty meat should really be viewed as much closer to Red-Light. Even the most fervent, rare, T-bone-eatin’-carnivores – if they’re in the biz – tend to recommend you stick to “quality meat.”
What makes meat “quality”?
Typically the diet of the animal prior to being inhumanely slaughtered, I mean, ritualistically butchered, I mean “when its being raised,” can drastically impact the nutritious content of the meat that is produced from their dead, lifeless, carcass.. I mean… from them. J
In the olden days, say 10,000 years ago, this distinction was irrelevant. We ate the animals that we could catch and kill. The very fact that we had to “catch and kill” them in the wild, is very important. It means they lived in the wild and ate a “wild diet,” and got “wild exercise.” Loren Cordain, Paleo legend, has published research suggesting animals, way back when, were significantly leaner (less fatty) than today and that their flesh was way more nutritious than than the overstuffed livestock of today.
This exercise and diet was much better than what they are getting today on the factory belt (which increases the sizes of our belts). But there are some farms that are keeping their animals in shape, albeit, still far worse shape than the wild llamas and mongooses (mongeese?) of yesteryear.
For example, cows are apparently supposed to eat grass and roam around and have mothers and stuff like that (yes, it appears mothers actually matter for animal health). Cows that do that are markedly healthier and, therefore, so is their flesh and tissue that is barbarically consumed by this culture, I OBJECT YOUR HONOR AND I MOVE TO STIKEEEEE. Sorry – I seem to be having Liar Liar-like, humane conflicts. (THIS MAN IS A GOOD FATHER!).
Anyway, that is the distinction between “grass-fed” and, say, “grain-fed.” Also, many animals are treated with things like antibiotics, and injected with growth hormones that do not seem to lead to good health outcomes for humans who consume them, post-murder of course.
Other terms that at least suggest better quality: organic, free-range, “hormone-free,” “raised without antibiotics.” Lastly, if you get them from a local farm that claims best practices, you can mostly assume this is better than getting your meat from a Purdue factory. (Though many of these terms can apparently be short-cutted).
IGF-1. A large part of the meat conversation is this “insulin-like growth factor,” or IGF-1. On the plus side, it seems to encourage muscle growth and possibly other growth factors in the brain. On the down side, it seems to encourage growth of unwanted things, like cancer cells.
Hmmm… muscles at the risk of cancer… hmm… I guess life is all about trade-offs..
Moral and Planet-saving Issues. This is a rich and aggressive debate – but it is beyond the scope of this article. Let’s save that for another time.
On The Meaty Side
- Some Studies Have Found Zero or Weak Correlation Between Meat and Early Death. The indispensable, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, led me to a follow-up analysis of this famous study that shows that when participants consumed meat but did not also have one other “unhealthy lifestyle factor” (smoking, slouching, drinking) there was no correlation with all-cause mortality (i.e. Death): “More careful analysis revealed that the association of animal protein intake with an elevated mortality risk only applied to participants with at least one factor associated with an unhealthy lifestyle — being either obese or underweight, heavy alcohol consumption, a history of smoking, or physical inactivity.”
- Body Form and Muscle Mass. Another Patrick find: people eating vegan diets potentially increase risk of muscle loss later in life, due, in part, to low-protein diets.
- Muscle loss later in life is an issue as it limits movement which leads to other issues as pointed out here. They advise higher protein consumption and animals are easier sources (though not required).
- However, in terms of bone health, high protein is controversial. A recent review on the impact of high-protein on bone health confusingly “suggested that the currently available data would lead to the conclusion that there is a beneficial effect of increasing protein intake on bone in older individuals who normally have a habitually low intake of protein.”
- The controversy is due to the fact that protein increases calcium absorption (key for bone health), but also increases calcium excretion. Further, protein increases acid load which is said to impact bone health.
- Bioavailability of Nutrients. Many nutrients are more bioavailable (I.e. Better-absorbed by your body) when consumed from animal sources. “Not only are these foods high in many micronutrients, but the nutrients often are more available. Table 2shows that both iron and zinc are more bioavailable in animal foods.”
- This is due to the fact that those same nutrients in plants tend to be bound to things that aren’t as easy for the body to process
- It’s Not Meat, It’s Refined Carbs. Here’s the meta-analysis by Dr. Krauss and others. The claim is meat / saturated fat is only bad after combined with refined carbs. I will discuss this more below when I specifically talk about saturated fat
- No Need to Supplement. The supplement industry does not have a great reputation. Eating meat may causes less need, if any, for supplements for things like b12.
- IGF-1. First, it has some benefits. Second, according to this study, if you exercise, it is taken out of circulation (which is where it is bad).
**A NOTE on Meat and Fertility. I have seen many-an-Interfacer claim that high-protein or meat diets “optimize” hormones – such as reproductive hormones. However, in my research, while actively seeking to find something confirming this, I have actually found the exact opposite (addressed below). If you know of such a study – please send my way.
On The Plant Side
- Strong and Consistent Correlation Between Meat and Disease. The largest studies done to date that tracked people found again and again that lower meat consumption, in a step-wise decrease per serving per day, lead to lower rates of disease, cancer and death
- “Vegetarian diets confer protection against cardiovascular diseases, cardiometabolic risk factors, some cancers and total mortality. Compared to lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets, vegan diets seem to offer additional protection for obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular mortality.”
- “The study determined that each additional daily serving of red meat increased risk of death by 13%. The impact rose to 20% if the serving was processed, as in food items like hot dogs, bacon, and cold cuts.”
- **EVEN The researchers from the above study that Dr. Patrick pointed out that showed little or no correlation in early death hypothesized that the difference was probably that people without at least one other risk-factor also ate less and “healthier” versions of meat: “those in the unhealthy lifestyle group consumed more red meats, eggs and high-fat dairy, while the healthy lifestyle group consumed more fish and poultry. So we suspect the different sources of animal protein between the two groups may contribute to the stronger results in the unhealthy lifestyle group.”**
- Blue Zones. According to research done by Public Interfacer, Dan Buettner (based on work by actual Researchers), there are a few geographic areas that – based on their pre-western-influenced diet – had a disproportionate percentage of their populations living late into their 80s, 90s, and 100s. There seems to be one thing in common between those societies – they tended to have diets largely based in plants: greens, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and other veggies.
- Plants and Depression In The Workplace. The Geico study randomized people in 10 corporate locations on Vegan or regular diets – depression / anxiety went down with plant-based diet.
- “Heme Iron” Linked to Disease. Iron is important for facilitation of various processes but too much can cause issues- even disease. Heme Iron, the type of iron in meat, has been linked to cancer and diabetes risk. Though less “bioavailable,”plant-based iron does not seem to be associated with these diseases.
- Arachidonic Acid. AA is an omega 6 fatty acid found in fatty meat (less in leaner meat) that, when out of balance seems to increase inflammation when oxidized.
- Increased Levels Of Cortisol (in some studies, not in others.)
- Testosterone Down? Animal Protein might push testosterone Down? In this study, old and small-sample-sized as it may be, the higher protein group had lower testosterone and higher cortisol levels than the lower protein, higher carb group.
- Animal Protein Intake Associated With Infertility In Women. This study showed that women from the Nurses Health Study II who consumed more plant-protein had significantly less incidence of infertility than animal.
- “In our study, consumption of protein from animal sources, including chicken and red meats, was associated with an increased risk of infertility due to anovulation while consuming protein from vegetable sources appeared to have the opposite effect.”
- Improved Fertility With Increased Plant and Lower Protein diets. This is a recent review and suggests fertility, semen quality, etc are all improved on plant-based diets.
- President of the American College of Cardiology advises a plant-based diet. “I recommend a plant-based diet because I know it’s going to lower their blood pressure, improve their insulin sensitivity and decrease their cholesterol”
- REVERSAL of Disease With Plants? Plant-based diets are the only ones, I believe, along with other lifestyle changes, that seem to have published, peer-reviewed science showing both stagnation and REVERSAL of heart disease and diabetes.
- “These findings support the feasibility of intensive lifestyle changes in delaying, stopping, or reversing the progression of coronary artery disease in ambulatory patients over prolonged period”
- Saturated Fat Still bad. After reading the Krauss review referenced above, these researchers concluded it isn’t either refined carbs or saturated fat that are the problem – it is both: “Clearly, diets high in either saturated fats or refined carbohydrates are not suitable for IHD [Ischemic Heart Disease] prevention.” (Emphasis mine).
- Excess Protein Can Negatively Impact Bone Health. Study.
My (Current) Take
As I mentioned, I resisted this data for years and maintained that a diet based on meat was the only one that was optimal. Of course, the previous sentence is completely incongruent with a pursuit claimed to be based on an objective, scientific-ish search for the facts. Resisting data seems to be the practice of one seeking merely to confirm his own opinions, rather than discover the truth.
However, in light of the above research, it seems to me that meat just has far too many risks to be consumed in any kind of abundance.
Even if you can eat perfectly – eat only high-quality meat (which is much harder to access and much more expensive) and then also add in healthy life-style factors – you still are running the apparent risk of things like heme iron, arachidonic acid, potentially hormonal and reproductive impact, and eating less plants in the trade-off.
Remembering Our Purpose: Given my stated goals of long-term, optimal Healthspan, there are certain rationales for eating meat, or anything, for that matter, that are not as relevant to this conversation.
- For instance, we are not talking about what is “easy” or what might be “OK.” What I am trying to find is the best way to live the longest “healthspan.” So things like “meat is ok if…” or “meat is not so bad if…” Or “it isn’t practical to…” — are less relevant here.
OK, now my reasons:
- Most defenses of meat seem really, really flimsy to me in that they seem to rely on one of the following types of defenses:
- Apologetic: “meat is fine – here look, in this study when they did this, this and this, meat was OK”
- The Absence of: In the Four-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss, for example, says that no culture that he can find has ever thrived on a 100% plant-based diet. However, it seems the ones we do know about are less than 10%, 5% or even 1% meat. Second, how many 100% plant-based-diet-eating cultures have been found that were unhealthy? Seems like zero also.
- It’s more “practical” or better for fat-loss. Meat has all these nutrients in once place, or more satiating, or more thermogenic, or, it’s more convenient and practical.
- My response here is – tell me what diet has the healthiest, most long-term potential. Then let me figure out if it is too hard to follow or not practical enough for my lifestyle.
- Protein Does Not Mean Animal. It’s in a LOT of things. We need something like 50-60 grams for an average male, about 20% less for a female. A cup of black beans will get ya over 15 g of protein. You can get about 10g from cup of whole grains. Another 10 from an ounce of nuts and seeds. And 5-10 from veggies and fruit. So your salad is now lookin’ like a protein power-house!
- Protein is a collection of amino acids – they are all around the plant-kingdom.
- Animal Protein (and not plant) has been linked to tons of diseases — it might be because of certain amino acids that, if over-done, seem to encourage cancer (methionine, for instance).
- See above for a picture of my calorie tracke One salad – all plants. Came to 600 cals, 32 grams of protein. That is, half of my daily requirement. And I usually add more beans than that. Also – note the FIBER. 25 Grams! The USDA is 25-30g. Less than 10% of Americans reach that daily.
- IGF-1. This seems like a stupid gamble to me. IGF-1 is crucial for child development, sure. But there might be a reason it tends to fall in the body as we age. And in fact, it can apparently be downright dangerous in terms of encouraging cancer-cell growth.
- Saturated Fat. We will get more into this below, but suffice it to say that saturated fat seems to increase LDL cholesterol, which appear to be a factor in cardiovascular disease. Meat is one of the largest sources of Sat-fat.
- Trans-Fat. This probably doesn’t matter so much for meat, but there does seem to be some traces of trans-fat in meat. Given that the WHO recommends 0% of transfat – we probably want to avoid all possible intake.
- Displacement of Plant Foods. Simply the tradeoff. If you eat a big steak or half a chicken, you are going to be way less likely to eat things that are shown to be great like kale, broccoli, spinach, berries, etc.
- Fiber. Meat has no fiber – fiber comes from cell walls found in plants. The American Heart Association recommends 25-30 grams per day. The average American gets about HALF that. Fiber may be most valuable because of the way it interacts with the “good bacteria” in your gut. (I talk about the gut briefly and its massive importance in this article).
- Antioxidants. Oxidation is what happens when oxygen grabs onto electrons and a chemical reaction ensues. It is what happens when you cut an apple or avocado and leave it in open air for a few minutes. It’s not good. Plants have 50 times more than animal.
- Blue Zones. The people who eat live longer appear to eat less meat. Whether or not this is 0% meat, they eat much less of it.
- Arachidonic Acid. This is pretty scary. But it has to do with how meat is processed in our guts versus things like fiber (plant-walls). The byproduct of fiber is more health stuff. The byproduct of meat? Looks like harmful acids.
- Gut and Inflammation. Meat seems to be inflammatory in this study.
- Meat, Hormones, Fertility. The whole hormone conversation looks at best up in the air and even tending towards at least more antioxidants and possibly less animal protein and fat.
- Alkalinity. Most plants are alkaline, meat seems to be acidic. Studies have been suggestive of alkaline diets being beneficial.
- Can still build muscle. There are Plant-based body-builders and UFC fighters — in case you’re into that kinda thing. Cows are not humans, and I have no data backing this up, but their muscles are built from plant foods. They are strong. Chimps are sorta like humans. Over 90% of their diets (or more) is plant-based. They are much stronger than us. Ok, you get it.
There is just way too much risk – whether or not it is correlative. And there isn’t as much data saying to me – “you must eat meat or else.”
I just don’t know what I cannot get assuming that I am eating with enough variety to get all essential amino acids, I am supplementing with B12, and all nutrients are being accounted for. (For instance, iodine can be tough to come by if you don’t eat sea veggies, e.g. seaweed. Just supplement.)
Dr. Greger likes to point out that all of the data we have on smoking being bad is also correlative. It doesn’t have people smoke in a randomized, controlled experiment and see if they get lung cancer. Apparently these softies see that as unethical. Uch, this country! Anyway, it took 7,000 correlative studies prior to the Surgeon General recommending against smoking. 7000!
How many will it take for meat, he asks.
Do I know if, or even think that, meat is the new smoking? I don’t know.
What I know is that there seems to exist sufficient data upon which one might be reasonably averse to taking the risk.
“Ok, ok. Meat seems to be questionable, Justin. But, I’m a pescatarian! That’s ok right? What’s so bad about fish? Noting is wrong with fish, right? I mean, I just HAVE to have my spicy salmon roll. OMG, I just love Sugar Fish. And fish don’t even feel pain!”
Well, let’s ice the “fish don’t feel pain” (get it? Ice? Hilarious) and morality stuff for a second and just talk about the fishy facts surrounding fish being “ok” to eat.
To do that, I am first going to give you a little anecdote about a near death encounter experienced by Tony Robbins due to his diet heavy in fish – specifically, Tuna. Then we can get into what the research says.
Fish Tales: Tony and Tuna.
Tony Robbins is a health super-freak.
In his early days, way before he was able to deliver this experience to me, he got his start in high school days after teaching himself how to lose a ton of weight. He did that by, of course, changing his mindset and behavior with respect to diet, exercise, and health overall.
And then, he showed a bunch of people how to do it. And a star was born.
He has an entire health empire, he is extremely strict with his diet, and he works out nearly everyday in high-intensity intervals. Here’s a video.
But, what does “strict with his diet” mean? What encompasses a “strict diet?”
For years Tony was a vegetarian, eating mostly Green-Light foods. If you read his second best-selling book, Awaken the Giant From Within, written in nearly 30 years ago, you’ll notice a many references to the apparent risks involved in consuming meat.
But then, because he didn’t feel like he had “full strength,” he claimed that he had to add fish back into his diet. Specifically, he added his favorite fish – Tuna.
Now, Tony is a wealthy guy. He was eating the most quality Tuna that is on the market. Freshly caught out of the sea. But guess what happened?
Well, it turns out that when your grandma was nagging you to avoid tuna about 15 years ago because of the mercury – that Old Wives’ Tale was actually good advice.
About two years ago, Tony started experiencing a lot of fatigue and muscle failure. He started to have bouts of dizziness and lethargy. At first he just thought he was getting old (he’s now 57ish)
Then it continued to worsen. At one point I believe he was feeling tingling and disability of certain muscles. And his brain felt foggy. So he started to seek help.
Doctors couldn’t figure it out until one specialist suggested he get a “metals test.” This is the kind of test that would check your blood for things like aluminum, mercury, lead, etc.
The tests came back, and sure enough, Tony had mercury in his blood at such high levels that the Doctor was surprised he could walk at all. He even indicated such levels were fatal.
The identified culprit: the Tuna.
So he dropped the Tuna, and his levels dissipated. And now he’s doing fine.
Fishy Research (The Anecdotal Claims)
Tony is by no means an isolated case and mercury is by no means the only life-threatening pollutant that has seemed to work its way into our water supply and into the gills of our seafood.
But it is also not exactly clear that all, or even most, fish present concerning levels of risk. And there still does seem to be a lot of benefit from eating fish.
Again, it seems the field is a bit divided, but I have come down on one side. Let’s take a look at the popular arguments, the research and then I’ll tell you where I stand.
The World Is My Oyster (Proponents)
- Omega 3 – fish have “good” polyunsaturated fats called Omega 3s
- Iodine – fish have iodine, something that humans need and tend to only get near the sea
- High protein, Low saturated fat and iron – they have all of the pluses Of meat on the protein side but little-to-no of the down sides
- Blue Zone. Many of the Blue Zones seem to at least eat some fish
Yuck, This Smells Like Fish (Detractors)
- Omega 3 and iodine actually come from the algae and sea-plants that fish eat – let’s just eat that
- Oh, and the evidence for Omega 3 benefits is dwindling
- In the correlative studies – it seems that vegans and vegetarians still live longer, even longer than pescatarians
- Even if Blue Zones eat some fish, it doesn’t mean this aspect made them healthier
- There are pollutants in fish called PCBs that can lead to sickness and disease
- Shitty fish. Wild-caught / organic fish are hard to get. Most fish are farmed and fed horrible diets.
- Fish Associated with Lower Mortality and Heart Issues Than Other Meat. Many studies have shown lower incidences of heart disease for pescatarians v. Straight-up meat eaters.
- One Reason might be the Heme Iron in, for instance, red meat.
- Omega 3s Seem Good, Right? Omega 3 Fatty Acids across the board have been claimed to be important to heart health, inflammation, depression and brain health. Even Haaahhrvard thinks so. But are they?
- Omega 3s and Depression. A 2012 review of randomized and controlled trials found that there was no significant benefit of omega 3s in terms of lowering depression. “meta-analysis demonstrated no significant benefit of omega-3 fatty acid treatment compared to placebo.”
- Omega 3s Lower Heart Disease Risk? Inconclusive at best. A 2014 review published by the National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease found that after reviewing of all current evidence on the link between Omega 3 intake and heart disease that there is little evidence to support that conclusion. “would the current best evidence lend support to widespread use of omega-3 supplements for primary or secondary CVD prevention? Our answer given the existing evidence would be ‘no’.”
- But what about that Harvard claim from above? Notice the studies they reference are all from the mid-2000s – a decade prior to the 2014 review cited here.
- Omega 3s and Brain Health. DHA and EPA have been linked to brain health (specifically, cognitive function and fighting off inflammation and disease) and one of the top sources of these ‘marine Omega 3s’ are certain kinds of fish – specifically fatty fish.
- Researchers, Dr Rhonda Patrick and Dr. Bruce Ames, have suggested this link is in part do to DHA / EPA impact on serotonin which itself regulates myriad brain functions
- However, a recent review suggested we still need more research to show this link is for real. “Overall, a greater understanding of the individual roles of EPA, DPA and DHA in brain health, protection and repair is needed in order to make appropriate dietary recommendations and targeted therapeutic interventions.”
- Even If Omega 3s Are Good, Do we Need to Get Them From Fish?
- There are two other avenues:
- ALA. ALA is a “precursor” to DHA and EPA (the marine omega 3s) and can be converted, though not efficiently. ALA is in walnuts, flaxseeds and other such seeds and nuts.
- And another point…
- It’s From Algae, Not Fish Originally. However, it appears that fish also do not produce these “essential” fatty acids (essential means found outside the body to essential to eat) algae are the actual sources of this fatty acid. As this article suggests, skip the fish and just eat the algae.
- There are two other avenues:
- Vegetarians Have Less Heart Issues. Associative and Cohort Studies have consistently shown that vegetarians have less heart disease. So whatever is good in fish, might not be as good as no fish and getting those things from somewhere else.
- Pollutants In Many Fish, even “Wild-Caught.” “PCBs” and other pollutants in fish raise concern about eating. However, there are some good things, so we need to understand the full picture. “The fish analyzed, mainly from Adak, contain significant concentrations of POPs, in particular PCBs, which raises the question whether these fish are safe to eat, particularly for sensitive populations. However when assessing any risk of the traditional diet, one must also consider the many health and cultural benefits from eating fish.”
- Risks Outweigh Benefits? Can we get the recommended DHA/EPA and escape pollutant risk at the same time? Apparently not.
“However, the recommended level of EPA+DHA intake cannot be achieved solely from farmed or wild salmon while maintaining an acceptable level of carcinogenic risk”
- The Benefits? Unclear. As this study suggests, the best evidence is for fish benefit is linked to lowered cardiovascular incident risk. However:
- (1) Veggies. Vegetarians still have even lower risk then the Mediterranean studies show
- (2) Mediterranean. The links are not all clear and merely associative.
- What About The Mediterranean Diet? The Mediterranean diet has shown lower cases of heart disease.
- The issue? We don’t know it was the fish. It may have been the veggies, fruits, seeds, whole grains, beans. For instance, this 2017 study showed that the MD diet did not improve heart outcomes for lower socioeconomic groups.
- The Reason? “In a subgroup of individuals of different socioeconomic status but sharing similar MDS, diet-related disparities were found as different intakes of antioxidants and polyphenols, fatty acids, micronutrients, dietary antioxidant capacity, dietary diversity, organic vegetables and whole grain bread consumption.”
- Basically concluding that the difference is the type and quality of veggies, fruits and whole grains.
- How Much Fish? The Mediterranean studies showed low to moderate fish consumption. 1-2 servings per week! How much are you consuming?
- The issue? We don’t know it was the fish. It may have been the veggies, fruits, seeds, whole grains, beans. For instance, this 2017 study showed that the MD diet did not improve heart outcomes for lower socioeconomic groups.
My (Current) Take
Again, too much risk here. Even if you eat wild caught fish, the water system seems to have all types of pollutants which gets into the fish. Are you going to mercury and PCB test the fish you eat?
I also don’t find it necessary. All of the benefits can be gotten elsewhere, though you may have to supplement to get the iodine and omega 3. We’ve already covered protein, iron and sat-fat.
Overall, fish does seem to carry less criticism than meat. Especially, if you can find a fish that is rated low on the PCB finding and it is wild-caught and good quality. So, if for you, it is a trade-off (and you accept this carcinogenic risk) then go wild-caught, organic fish.
As for me, I’ll hold off most of the time.
After the 90s low-fat phenomenon, then next culprit turned out to be “carbs.” This was a blanket indictment that was really focused on what used to be the largest building block of the USDA food pyramid: pastas, breads and cereals.
You had Atkins and South Beachers then ordering cheeseburgers – once cast as the villain in the anti-fat 90s – just
without buns. They would get the bolognese without the pasta. They would drink the milk without the fruity pebbles (a horrible trade).
And guess what – many of them would lose weight in the near term. Wow – if I lose weight in the short-term of a diet – that must mean it is healthy, right!? Perhaps…
Thought it’s In no way dispositive, and we don’t know exactly what he ate, but it certainly doesn’t help the cause that Dr. Atkins died of heart complications…
Besides sugar, wheat is probably the most widely cited felon from the Meat-hungry crowd – from the low-carbers, to the ketogenics, all the way through that foraging, back-to-basics cross-fitting crowd – the Paleos!!! The cry is loud and unison: “it’s not the meat, it’s the WHEAT!!”
One of the more popularly cited aspects of wheat that make it so bad: gluten. That pesky protein that has disproportionately wreaked the most havoc on this society compared to its actual prevalence this side of terrorism. (Spoken like a true, spoiled, suburban brat who’s never been close to a war or danger).
How likely are you to be killed by a terrorist? Well, according to Norm Macdonald – it’s like zero percent.
I can’t verify those numbers but it reminds me of a similarly-feared affliction: celiac disease, which effects approximately 1% of the population. And wheat sensitivity? That seems like it’s a comparatively small number.
If there is going to be an argument against wheat it would seem to have to stand on its own without pointing to gluten as the smoking gun.
Wholy Wheat, Batman!
- Inflammation. There are claims by people like Steven Gundry, the Palelos, Dr. Davis from Wheat Belly, Dr. David Permutter from Grain Brain and Dave Aspery of Bulletproof fame, that wheat, due in part to gluten, might be inflammatory, albeit in an anecdotal or patient reported style.
- GMO. The claim is that most wheat products are not your grandfather’s wheat from the B.C. fields of the Middle East (the ___ as it was called). These new formations are different and worse.
- Wheat = Sugar. To your body, the argument goes, wheat is processed like sugar. That is, very fast. It spikes your insulin levels which cannot all get processed by the liver and therefore is stored as fat.
- Wheat makes you fat. Tim Ferriss’s Answer to “Can I Eat Whole Grains if I want to have a Four-Hour Body?” – simply “No.”
Whole Wheat v. Processed or Refined Wheat: A Short History.
Back in the Industrial Revolution times, rich, white (and probably racist) people were apparently very into white things. They thought they looked more regal, more “refined.” This is why many products you see “Refined” wheat. The same thing happened with rice.Rich people ate white stuff. Poor people at the brown stuff. There seems to be a massive difference in the effects on ones body between the two, and for once, the rich did not seem to win in this trade-off.
I can’t find any credible source that is claiming processed wheat is healthier – save for the venders or profiteers of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Barilla or Wonder Bread.
What has happened there is the germ (B, E Vitamins, Phytonutrients) and the bran (fiber) have been pulled out of the wheat. And all that is left is just white, refined, flower. This kind of product seems to act like sugar as the anti-wheat picketers claim. But it seems to be, at least in some research, limited to that. The same does not seem to be true in the whole grain versions.
It is very important that we distinguish between the two and that we take research that does not make this distortion with a … GRAIN.. of salt. Man, I am funny.
- Whole Grains (in general) Correlate To Healthier, Longer Life. This 2016 review of 45 studies and over 600,000 people showed an inverse relationship between whole grain consumption and heart disease, mortality, cancer, stroke, etc. That is, the more whole grains consumed per day, the less disease (up to 7 servings).
- “This meta-analysis provides further evidence that whole grain intake is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and total cancer, and mortality from all causes, respiratory diseases, infectious diseases, diabetes, and all non-cardiovascular, non-cancer causes. These findings support dietary guidelines that recommend increased intake of whole grain to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and premature mortality.”
- Why? From another review: “Whole grains are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, lignans, β-glucan, inulin, numerous phytochemicals, phytosterols, phytin, and sphingolipids”
- Good Summary Of Research Linking Whole Grains (including Wheat) to Less Disease: from Haaahhhhhrvard’s blog.
- Whole Grains Make You Thinner? The Framingham Study revealed an association between whole grain intake and a thinner waistline. They suggest a randomized trial is in order to test the causation. It could, after all, be that people who tend to eat whole grains happen to be more active, more prone to eat healthy, and so are thinner.
- Which Grains are Best? We need more research but “studies suggest that whole grain oats and rye might be more beneficial than whole grain wheat in relation to cardiovascular disease.”
- Be Careful – Need Fiber. The definition in the US of “whole grain” is apparently The research seems to advise at least 1 to 5 or 6 ratio of fiber to carbohydrates in the whole grains you purchase. So – if a slice of bread is 15 carbs – you’ll want to get at least 2-3 grams of fiber.
- Grains And Inflammation. This study showed that whole grain consumption lowered or maintained inflammation levels while refined grains increased
- So did this one.
- Is it More Whole Grains Or Less Refined Grains (or meat or dairy) That Leads to Benefit?
- This study controlled for other factors – people eating a generally healthy diet and working out and not smoking. “After…adjustment for … age, smoking, body mass index, physical activity, and a modified alternative healthy eating index, higher whole grain intake was associated with a lower total and CVD mortality but not cancer mortality.”
- Gluten? Celiacs disease is a real problem – for 1% of the population. If you are part of that 1% (a potentially equally hated 1% as the “1%ers”) then you should certainly take this seriously. If you are 99% of the population, however, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of evidence that you should avoid it.
- Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity. NCGS is probably a thing, but we need more research to verify. It is also likely a very small number.
- “There is some evidence that NCGS may exist, but probably only in a small number of people”
- In Fact this very small sample size saw BENEFIT to immune system via gluten.
The Wheat controversy does not scare me quite as much as the animal one does. However, the diet I eat – one largely centered on salad / veggie / beans / nuts / seeds / berries /maybe some quinoa or wild rice topping type setup – does not really lend itself to 100%WW bread.
I don’t eat too many sandwiches or a ton of pasta. When I eat whole grains – they typically come in the form of forked or spooned foods like oatmeal or brown / black/ red rice. Having said that, I have no real issue eating 100% whole wheat – especially if it’s freshly baked and made with cranberry and walnuts – obvi!
One reason for this decision is that eating is always a tradeoff. So the amount of whole wheat I consume displaces the amount of spinach, broccoli or beans I can consume. And, from what I’ve seen, and as I’ve outlined in the Green-Light article – greens / veggies / beans / berries have more benefits per calorie by a good margin.
I’d say if you want to avoid whole wheat because of the gluten or wheat sensitivity / inflammation concern – it isn’t a horrible stance. If you want to find out for sure if you are genetically predisposed to gluten allegories or sensitivity – you can find out by getting your 23andme.com genetics report.
There are other whole grains you can eat, and you don’t seem to need a ton of them.
“The current scientific evidence isn’t enough to say that exposure to these compounds is toxic, but we also can’t say with certainty that there is no effect”.
This confusing quote is from an Auburn Developmental Biologist commenting on the potential impact of soy on development and reproduction. As you can plainly see, this is why soy is a yellow light food. It is these yellow light foods, remember, that are inconclusive.
Therefore, we may be justifiably skeptical when one of our friends, or trainers or Public Interfacers makes a definite claim one way or the other.
Soy appears to be one of the most processed products in the US: soybean oils, various proteins, products like “chikin” or even tofu. WE tend to see (or not see) versions of soy in many of the processed foods and cooking styles of fast food restaurants and other red-light forms.
Why? Well, it’s cheaper. And not only a cheap crop in and of itself, but the federal government apparently gives subsidies into the billions every year for the producing and eventual processing of products like soy (also wheat and corn, for example).
According to the US Department of Agriculture, soy is the second most genetically modified crop in the country at 94% of the crops (first is corn). These are cheap crops out of which factories can produce even cheaper end-products like high-fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, and various refined flowers.
We just saw the wheat processing situation. A similar thing happened to corn and soy once the industry realized how cheap it was to take them and make various oils and other shitty, processed products. But it is important to recognize, that this is not the same thing as the organic and whole-food / whole-grain (corn is a grain) forms of these products.
And keep in mind – this is basically true all over the food kingdom. We have research showing that apple juice, for instance, is way worse for your blood sugar than apples. This is why many experts, from vegans to paleos, tend to put a premium on foods in their whole form.
I believe this is where many people got their distaste for all three of these crops, including soy. Then soy also carries the negative association of it having “phytoestrogens” in it. This suggests to many that you will increase your body’s circulating estrogen. We’ll have to look at the research to see if that is true or not.
Again, we are talking here about organic soy beans – not any version of the processed forms of soy. That data is still relevant as to the dangers of processed soy, and I will touch on the concerns, but when I am talking about soy in this section, I don’t want to obscure the actual pros and cons with the ones that come post-production line.
- It negatively effects your hormones – estrogen up, testosterone down
- It may impact fertility, reproduction or the development of infants
- The crop is shitty
- Bladder problems?
Soy Boys (…and Girls – this is a Title-9-approved blog)
- Asian countries are prevalent, Blue Zones, especially Japan. Their diets are high in soy products. They don’t seem to have any of these fertility issues or hormonal imbalances
- Soy is correlated with lower rates of prostate and breast cancer
- Soy is a complete protein
- Soy does not seem to have any of the negative effects of animal protein
- Whole-food soy is consumed largely by Asian cultures with comparatively low disease as shown in the Blue Zones research
- Soy and Bladder Cancer. In 2002, this study showed a relationship between soy intake (at about 200g per day) and higher likelihood of bladder cancer
- But. This study, the largest on bladder cancer ever (500,000 ppl), showed an increased risk of bladder cancer from animal protein intake and a DECREASED incidence of bladder cancer for consumers of plant protein by over 20%
- A review in 2010 concluding 20 years of soy research showed that soy may have many benefits and there is no evidence to support the adverse effects claimed on reproduction or other areas
- Studies on development have remained inconclusive at best
- GMO Soy and RoundU It is not clear that the risk is significant in terms of GMO impacted by the pesticide RoundUp, but still, some concern seemed to exist in animal studies.
- 2017 study editorial suggested soy may lower breast cancer incidence and be otherwise very beneficial for everyone.
- From a CNN article on the study: “So far, we know that soy foods are good, soy foods are safe, soy foods prevent breast cancer, and also improve treatment results and decrease mortality in breast cancer patient”
- Bone Health And Soy. In this study, Long-term associative studies of Asian cultures supports a connection between soy and bone health. However, we need more and better studies to establish cause. We also may need to use whole-food soy, rather than concentrated or processed.
- Haaarrrvarrrd Seems Torn. This Harvard article summarizes a lot of the research – showing flashes of possible benefit and harm but mostly inconclusiveness.
- Beans, Tofu and Tempeh. Most studies use mere components of soy, rather than whole-food soy. It appears that organic soy beans (edamame) would be the best case for soy, while more processed forms, like Tofu (even organic) has less of the benefits, albeit, still has some. There are potential benefits of the fermentation process that results in Tempeh.
- However – products like fake chicken patties seem to typically be unhealthy given all of the additives and high amounts of processing
My (Current) Conclusion
As other Yellows, largely indeterminate research here. However, given the soy story, I gave this a shot during my Vegan experiment, eating soy about 95% of the days, usually in it’s whole or organic form (mostly soybeans – less so the more processed: tofu, tempeh, soymilk).
In My Vegan Experiment, which I will publish soon, my blood tests actually showed my testosterone went up and my estrogen is well within normal range. This is after 1 year. Also, most of my other disease risk factors have gone down, including inflammation factors.
It isnt’ conclusive, maybe all of that stuff happened in spite of soy. However, it is a good reason to doubt, if only for one person, that soy negatively effects reproductive hormones or other areas if eaten in its whole and / or organic forms.
I’ll continue to test it moderately, and mostly organic (to avoid pesticide impact) and whole-food form. I’ll also measure and keep an eye out for future research.
But anyone who concluded to stay away from it would not surprise me. Seems like a reasonable conclusion.
Vegans hate Carnivores, sure. But they really despise those backstabbing, half-way, wannabes – The vegetarians!
Those people who can wink and bat their eyes at the cows on one side of their face, and then, like Harvey “Two Face” Dent , they relegate that same cow to a life of utter servitude. The innocent cow is trapped in a tiny box, pumping milk out of their utters and not seeing the light of god-damn day for the rest of their lives!!! As Jon Lovitz once said: so-long, milk maids!
And it is the Veggies and the Carnis alike that tout the benefits and the not-so-bad-ness of diary products. Some of them actually distinguish dairy protein (milk, whey, casein) from dairy fat (butter, ghee). But we are going to handle them all together.
The Shake Your Dairy Airs (Proponents)
- Diary Fat (butter) Gives You Wings. Dave Asprey claims this is good for your mitochondria (the “powerhouse of the cell”).
- Milk-Protein (casein) Is good and Slower Releasing. This is helpful, apparently, for muscle building. If you get a slow release, over night, the theory goes, you keep protein circulating in your system and you are perhaps more ready to build for your morning workout.
- Saturated Fat is fine / good. I will address this further in its own section.
- Probiotics. Certain forms of “cultured” yogurt (like Greek) and kefir (fermented) have live bacteria in them that are apparently still living when you eat the Oikos. If so, this would hypothetically be good for your gut as you are supplementing your current gut bacteria.
- Diary and Bone Health. Calcium – right? Where am I going to get my calcium. This isn’t what it seems – I’ll discuss below.
The Lactose Intolerants
- High Sat-Fat Source. Dairy is the highest source of saturated fat. Again, will get to sat-fat in a second.
- Milk protein is inflammatory. And so may be dairy sugar (lactose)
- Dairy and lungs. There seems to be correlation between dairy consumption and respiratory issues.
- Probiotics are elsewhere, prebiotics are better. You can get probiotics without dairy. Or you can just feed the gut bacteria you already have with fiber – this is called “pre”
- Benefits of Dairy Fat (butter). This review describes a component called CLA which is in milk fat. It seems to be beneficial to the body in many ways.
- “CLA is a native component of milk fat. Its content can be increased in fermented milk through bioconversion of unsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acids by different LAB [14, 15]. The functionality of CLA has been well documented with respect to its anti-inflammatory , antiatherogenic, and antioxidant properties .”
- Disadvantage of Dairy Fat. This article out of Harvard summarizes a review of current data that suggested while diary fat was not associated with an increase in heart disease, replacement of such fat with polyunsaturated or veggie fat – the heart disease fell by about 20%.
- Dairy and Probiotics. As we’ve seen repeatedly in these Yellow Light foods, the evidence with respect to dairy and beneficial probiotic strains is inconclusive. This review of the available evidence cites the potential benefits, but also recognizes the sparseness of the data, our lack of understanding of bacteria strains in general and the potential threat of pathogens in dairy.
- Inconclusive. “In spite of the scientific advances, our knowledge on the effects of fermented dairy products and the accompanying microorganisms on human health remains incompletely understood.”
- Pathogens. “As a whole, despite the overall excellent safety record of fermented dairy products, outbreaks and incidents of disease still can result from their consumption”
- Trouble Surviving. “However, probiotics often show poor survival in the food matrix, due to factors such as low pH, oxygen content, temperature, and the presence of other microorganisms”
- And even if they make it through that, the report describes the low probability of surviving the “harsh conditions” of the digestive process.
- Beneficial If They Make it. If they survive the above: “The most promising health effects of probiotics in human intervention studies include amelioration of acute diarrhoea in children, reduction of the risk of respiratory tract infections, relief of children’s milk allergy/atopic dermatitis, and alleviation of irritable bowel syndrome.”
- Dairy and calcium.
- Higher Absorption from Cruciferous Veggies. “The absorption of calcium is about 30 percent from dairy and fortified foods (e.g., orange juice, tofu, soy milk) and nearly twice as high from certain green vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, and kale).”
- However, Vegan Diet Risk. Because of oxalates and phytic acid in plant-foods like spinach, beans, and sweet potatoes, absorption is challenged. As a result, “vegan sources of calcium may be less bioavailable and, in turn, problematic for ensuring adequate calcium intake”
- However. They also point out that high potassium intake can lead to increased calcium maintenance (potassium is typically higher plant-based diets).
- Dairy blocks Absorption of Antioxidants. This study seemed to confirm that milk disables the antioxidant impact of of blueberries on the body. “The ingestion of blueberries in association with milk, thus, impairs the in vivo antioxidant properties of blueberries and reduces the absorption of caffeic acid.”
- Dairy and Respiratory disease.
- Lung Cancer. This review of available evidence in 2016 suggested no significant association with dairy consumption and lung cancer.
- However, ” Dairy consumption may play a role in cancer development. However, the evidence from observational studies is inconclusive.”
- Dairy and Prostate Cancer. This review of available evidence found a significant correlation of dairy intake and prostate cancer mortality.
- “ whole milk intake in men contributed to elevated prostate cancer mortality risk.”
- Dairy Contamination. The review from above points out various ways in which dairy can carry “potent carcinogen[s]” – one being Aflatoxin.
- “In milk and dairy products mycotoxins [aflatoxin is one type] mainly come from feed contaminated either in the field or during drying and storage”
- “Regarding undesirable microorganisms in dairy products, special attention should be focused on the spore-former bacteria which are important contaminants in the dairy industry.”
- Lung Cancer. This review of available evidence in 2016 suggested no significant association with dairy consumption and lung cancer.
My (Current) Take
So the calcium and probiotics thing seems tenuous at best. Because it blocks other good stuff like polyphenol absorption, it’s association with prostate issues (at least), and the fact that it is the highest source of saturated fat, something that is correlated with raise in LDL cholesterol – a leading risk factor of heart disease, I tend to avoid it.
In no way dispositive, but many of the positive studies on dairy, like this one, tend to be heavily funded by various Big Dairy supporters and institutions.
It also sometimes hurts my tummy.
This certainly was NOT the result I was hoping for shame considering cereal (preferably a mix of Honey Bunches of Oats and Cinnamon Life) + 2% milk is probably the best meal on the planet.
And what’s our solution? Water blended with almonds or soy beans?!
Uchh. Spare me.
Eggs (Organic, Free Range)
Eggs Are Eggs
One of my favorite scenes in Seinfeld is when George is on a date with a woman with whom the conversation is a horrible struggle. They have nothing to talk about.
In an effort to talk over breakfast, George says to her: “How are the eggs?” She characteristically replies, not helping whatsoever, “Eggs are eggs.” George, looking frustrated but feigning a smile agrees, “yes, eggs are eggs.”
And so they are. But are they healthy or not? That is what we have not seemed to be able to figure out in this “Information Age.” More like “Misinformation.” Hahaha. Wait a second, is that Comedy Central banging down my door again!? (I have issues).
Anyway here we are.
- Eggs are a great source of protein, choline, carotenoids, and other nutrients. So much that some sources call them a “superfood”
- Dietary cholesterol is not bad – and eggs have the “good cholesterol”
- Saturated fat is not bad – not when it’s “good saturated fat”
- Eggs can be sources of Omega 3s as well
Eggnog—Nogonna work here anymore (detractors):
- Dietary cholesterol is a least a little bad, saturated fat is worse
- Eggs are unsafe – even sunny-side up eggs (the best form) due to contamination and pathogens like salmonella.
- The nutrients are best found elsewhere
- Eggcellent Advantage. According to this review: “the macronutrient content of eggs include low carbohydrates and about 12 g per 100 g of protein and lipids, most of which are monounsaturated [8,18,19] and supply the diet with several essential nutrients (Table 1). Some of these nutrients, such as zinc, selenium, retinol and tocopherols, are deficient in people consuming a western diet, and given its antioxidant activity, can protect humans from many degenerative processes, including CVD”
- Choline. They also point out that eggs have a good source of Choline which may be important for the integrity of cell membranes throughout the body — and “it is a required nutrient that is essential for the normal development of the brain.”
- Carotenoids. Eggs have a decent amount in the yolk good for eye development and maintenance.
- “eggs are a very important food source of these carotenoids, especially in the case of people that consume low amounts of vegetables with a high content of these substances”
- Skeletal Muscle Development. Various amino acids in eggs are great for muscle development and are very bioavailable from eggs.
- All of the above, plus others, have had some sources declare eggs a “Superfood”
- But…These Nutrients Are (Better?) Found Elsewhere
- “These natural compounds found in the bodies of animals, and in dietary animal products, are ultimately derived from plant sources in the diet, mainly from dark green leafy plants”
- Eggs, Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes. For years, we were convinced that egg consumption, do to the cholesterol in the yolk raised risk of heart disease. Then this study showed no relationship between egg consumption and heart disease. But this was for up to ONE egg per day. Who eats one egg?
- Sunny Side up eggs are dangerous.
- In summarizing the evidence On egg-borne illness, the same review in 2015 described the issue: “Unfortunately, eggs and egg-derived foods are responsible for a large number of food-borne illnesses each year, mainly caused by Salmonella”
- What’s a large number? The Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) says that 1,000,000 people in the US are impacted by Salmonella every year (not all from eggs).
- It’s Never Sunny…Side. The CDC advises to cook both the yolk and white throughly.
- In summarizing the evidence On egg-borne illness, the same review in 2015 described the issue: “Unfortunately, eggs and egg-derived foods are responsible for a large number of food-borne illnesses each year, mainly caused by Salmonella”
- Is it The Dietary Cholesterol? For most people (approximately 70% of the US population), if healthy, the “dietary cholesterol” (cholesterol in the egg) does not result in a significant jump in the cholesterol level in your blood (“serum cholesterol”).
- “This suggests that, for healthy individuals, the nutritional benefits clearly outweigh the concern surrounding the dietary cholesterol provided by one large egg.”
- However, 30% of people seem to be hypersensitive to dietary cholesterol.
- For people who already take in higher amounts of cholesterol or saturated fat, the impact is even greater.
- Dioxins and Pollutants in The Soil. Various forms of what are called PCBs are picked up by the hens foraging in them. As a result, their eggs – even organic and free-range eggs – are contaminated. This study warned that regular consumption of these eggs would put one right around the European Union limit on dioxin level.
My (Current) Take:
Due to the dietary cholesterol and the saturated fat in the yolks, there seems to be a risk. Indeed, even proponents of meat and eggs like Loren Cordain (one of the Paleo Diet gods) suggest no more than five eggs per week. I don’t know about you, but I used to eat 3-4 egg omelets almost daily!
Not cooking the yolk is apparently an unsafe way to go in terms of getting rid of certain pathogens.
In terms of just the egg white, the worry would be animal-protein related. There is a ton connecting animal protein to risks including from certain pathogens found in them. Though, even some Vegan experts (Like Researcher and Public Interfacer, Dr. Dean Ornish) allow for a bit of egg white every once in a while.
I will mostly steer clear as the risk seems too high and they don’t seem to have anything I can’t get elsewhere.
In other words, the yolk’s on you. In other, other words: “leggo that egg-o.” In other, other, other words: “Eggggggcellent” – If you want to be like Mr.Burns. A.K.A, no, you don’t.
(Again, I have issues).
All Or Nothing
I often find that perceived absolute certainty tends to get you into trouble. For example, I’m no historian, but the apparent failure of Soviet Communism – doesn’t seem to mean that we should banish all ideas that ever came out of that party, does it?? Or, if we believe that, to some degree, lack of government regulation contributed to the 2008 economic crisis, does that mean that we need to go in the total opposite direction?
In my experience, it is rare that a group missed on 100% of their ideas, or even 50%.
To a large extent, this seems to be playing out in the saturated fat debate. You have what are called the “Lipid (fat) Hypothesis” which says that dietary fat, specifically trans and saturated fats have lead to the uptick in disease in western civilization in the last century. Then you have the “carbohydrate hypothesis” or the “sugar hypothesis” which holds almost the exact opposite. That it isn’t the fat, but it’s the sugar or the carbohydrates.
Both sides seem to be pointing to the other side as the sole culprit of all diet-influenced disease In the Western world.
But is it possible that there is some truth to both? It seems possible to me.
You may have read about or listened to a podcast featuring a guy named Gary Taubes. Taubes is a science and nutrition journalist that has pointed the finger at researchers and Public Interfacer’s alike in saying that they are wrong about fat. That fat is fine, or even good, and that the real problem is carbohydrates, particularly refined ones, and sugar.
Taubes makes a couple of very solid points in terms of how various pieces of research have been dubious or inconclusive (sort of the Yellow Light theme). However, according to Michael Pollan, another health writer, Taubes has taken the argument to the other extreme- ignoring the possibility that they BOTH play a role in our collective arterial destruction.
While Saturated Fat is not a type of food like the rest of the items on this list, it is so controversial and so rooted at the base of the argument over so many of these foods (meat, dairy, eggs), that I thought it a good idea to separate it out, and look at both the anecdotal and scientific evidence on both sides.
Saturated Fat is The Enemy!
- It causes heart disease
- It raises your cholesterol
- It makes you fat
More Like Saturated Phat!
- Sugar causes heart disease and makes you fat
- Saturated fat is good for us
- We need it and we need cholesterol
- The Preponderance of the Associative Data Shows Saturated Fat Should be Replaced – says the President of the American Heart Association.
- The Krauss Review. Ron Krauss, the Director of Atherosclerosis Research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, famously found (among others) in a 2010 review of available evidence, that there was no association between Sat-Fat intake and heart disease.
- “A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.”
- It may be worth noting, that this study design was heavily criticized by many accredited Researchers, and so was a similar study published in a British Journal.
- There was also some concern due to the funding of the study – the dairy industry.
- SF Only Bad If Mixed With Refined Carbs. Krauss was interviewed by the wonderful, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, and seemed to suggest that saturated fat only becomes bad (oxidized) if you add the impact of refined carbs.
- Saturated Fat Bad In a Petri Dish. Even Researchers who have found Saturated Fat to be no worse than refined carbs recognize that, in a Petri dish (“in vitro”), when mixed with human cells, the compounds that make up saturated fat are harmful.
- “In vitro, even-chain SFA (saturated fat), including myristic acid (14:0) and palmitic acid (16:0), activates pro-inflammatory cascades, induces skeletal muscle insulin resistance, and damages pancreatic β-cells”
- However, cells in a dish is not the human body and there are often major discrepancies.
- In Humans, No Worse Than Refined Carbs- But Worse Than Poly-UnSaturated Fats. In 2016, Researchers looked reviewed results of about 100 randomized, controlled trials (the strongest form of experiment), which consisted of about 5,000 people overall. The advise, in order to avoid Inflammation, heart disease risk factors, and diabetes, we should replace Sat Fat and Refined Carbs with Unsaturated fats, particularly “polyunsaturated” fats.
- “The results support guidelines to increase MUFA intake to improve glycaemia and insulin resistance, with possibly stronger effects among patients with type 2 diabetes, and to increase PUFA intake in the general population to improve long-term glycaemic control, insulin resistance, and insulin secretion capacity, in place of SFA or carbohydrate.”
- Krauss Actually Found This Same Thing in this review.
- Unsaturated Fat better Than Sat-Fat For Blood Pressure. This randomized, controlled study saw a significantly positive impact on blood pressure from unsaturated v saturated fats (specifically polyunsaturated fats).
- It’s All About Opportunity Cost?
- In a massive review in 2015, the results seem to be mixed in terms of association between Saturated Fat intake and various disease, cancer or death. However, it might be largely about what we replace the SF with. If it is with Green Light carbs – like fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans – there seems to be a benefit. They referenced this study:
“The analysis of data from the largest prospective study to examine carbohydrate quality, as measured by glycemic index, suggests that replacement of saturated fat with high glycemic index carbohydrate increased the risk of CVD, but replacement with low glycemic index carbohydrate (such as whole fruits, vegetables, pulses, and grains) decreased risk.116”
- Krauss Again – this Time – High Sat-Fat Increases Risk for Some People. For a certain type of person with what’s called Phenotype B – a “very” high intake of SF may increase risk of hear disease.
My (Current) Take:
This whole situation is a bit screwy. Not many people seem to be able to come to a solid conclusion one way or the other.[Helen Sanders, a fellow blogger, has summarized the situation quite well here].
It seems to all be relative. If you are taking away saturated fat – what are you adding? If it is refined carbs like Nutrigrain bars and Hoagies, you are not likely to see a benefit.
However, if you are replacing these things with Green-Light foods, you seem to significantly lower your risk of heart disease.
As Haaarvarrrddd concludes: “Two other major studies narrowed the prescription slightly, concluding that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats like vegetable oils or high-fiber carbohydrates is the best bet for reducing the risk of heart disease, but replacing saturated fat with highly processed carbohydrates could do the opposite.”
The WHO, American Heart Association, and most other notable, non-bias associations advise limiting saturated fat intake and increasing Green Light foods.
That’s what I’ll go with until we see something definitive.
Back Story – Oil is Healthy?
Since the Mediterranean diet and the Keto diet took the nation by storm, we were told that extra-virgin olive oil is healthy. This is, apparently, due to its “good” fats and polyphenols.
The question with the Mediterranean craze is – was it the olive oil itself, or the propensity of people on these diets to eat high amounts of veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and beans?
Additionally, with the Keto craze, we saw the comeback of another oil which was largely disposed of just years earlier after an click-bait-worthy advertisement regarding it’s saturated fat content (pulling on the 90s low-fat craze): coconut oil. Here is the incriminating 1994 NY Times article, in perfect Public Interfacer style: “How about some Popcorn With Your Fat.”
We are told that coconut oil is healthy specifically due to its medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and because it is more stable when cooking at high heat.
I’ve discussed Olive Oil a tad when speaking about cooking certain oils at high heat in the Red Light list, but have yet to touch on coconut – which will be the focus here. I will comment on olive oil and others in “my current take.”
Coconut Oil is Bullet Proof (proponents):
- MCTs are good for you
- Good saturated fat
- It is stable to cook with
- I love it in my coffee!!!
You’re All Coco-Nuts! (Detractors):
- Saturated fat (except the kind our bodies already have) is correlated to heart disease
- Some MCTs might be beneficial but not all
- It’s high calories, pure fat, with no fiber and less nutrients than the whole food
- You can cook with water and spices
- MCTs. They seem to have some positive effect – but only certain kinds – there are many. Coconut oil does not seem to have too much of that kind.
- Heart Disease Risk. Elevated LDL levels are generally accepted as a risk factor for heart disease. Although it is only correlational data, saturated fats seems to increase cholesterol (including LDL) and thus increases our risk factors for heart disease. Coconut oil does not seem to be an exception to this rule.
- “Coconut oil generally raised total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol to a greater extent than cis unsaturated plant oils, but to a lesser extent than butter. (So butter.. hmm)
- Coconut Oil v. Olive Oil. Some studies suggest Coconut is better. But most recent study from the American Heart Association says otherwise.
- “In summary, randomized controlled trials that lowered intake of dietary saturated fat and replaced it with polyunsaturated vegetable oil reduced CVD by ≈30%, similar to the reduction achieved by statin treatment”
- Coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat
- “Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD [cardiovascular disease], and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil”
- Other Oils, Including Olive Good, But Only Relatively So? Studies like these suggest benefits of canola oil or olive oil, but only in comparison to diets with saturated fats. This one too.
My (Curren)t Take:
One review out of the International Life Sciences Institute analyzed 21 existing studies on coconut oil and cardiovascular risk factors found that:
“Overall, the weight of the evidence from intervention studies to date suggests that replacing coconut oil with unsaturated fats would alter blood lipid profiles in a manner consistent with a reduction in risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”
For me, this is usually enough to suggest that it might be too risky to eat. Remember, heart disease is the number 1 killer in America. So the question becomes, why do I need coconut oil so bad at that cost?
When you throw in the lauric acid (50% of coconut oil) risks of inflammation that have been thrown around, there’s just way too much downside to justify the potential upsides.
Olive Oil would still be a Yellow Light food for me here as I am unsure about its stability at high heat and I don’t see the benefit of adding it to salad rather than adding other things that serve the same or similar purposes in an overall better way for less calories per tablespoon.
Not to mention, the reports of very few olive oils being of high quality. In fact, most seem to be “rancid.” And this is no better in any other oil.
I think Dr. Joel Fuhrman is instructive here: it’s a lot like Fruit Juice v. Whole Fruit. You are getting only a fraction of the nutrients as you would be from the whole-food form.
“What, what’s’a matter?”
“You spilled the salt, that’s what’s’a matter. Spilling the salt is very bad luck. We’re driving across the country, the last thing we need is bad luck! OK, look, toss some salt over your right shoulder.”
We all know the rest of that scene– Harry throws the entire shaker, it hits Seabass, Seabass hocks a loog on Harry’s burger, Lloyd laughs, then they get back at him.
“So what happens, so the guy tricks some sucker into picking up his tab and then gets away with it scot-free?”
“No, in the movie, they catch up with the guy about a mile down the road and slit his throat…ha ha…It was a good one!”
What was missing from that scene was a very helpful and necessary dissertation of the health properties of salt. That’s what I always say, anyways.
Salt is the only rock we eat (well, except for that friend I used to have that liked to eat sand a lot).
I am not exactly sure why I thought it was healthy in the first place, but I know that I was told that I was supposed to eat sea salt, and then more recently pink Himalayan salt, instead of that table salt nonsense.
Let’s investigate why.
Salt Shakers (proponents):
- Trace Minerals. Apparently, salt is a good source of trace minerals. What’s a trace mineral? The body has five major minerals which are the things you commonly here referred to as “electrolytes”: calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and sodium. All others are referred to as Trace Minerals (or Trace Elements) – like iron or zinc or selenium.
- Source of Sodium. The presence of sodium in the body is necessary to attract water. There is a balance you need to ensure.
- Quality Salt, More Benefits. The difference between the pink Himalayan sea salts of the world and, say, table salt, is a degree of processing and technique of extraction. The pink salt is the least refined and so has the most minerals.
- Raises Blood Pressure.
- Stomach issues
- Uh, It’s a rock, like your hard head.
- Sodium Is Important. As this review states, it “helps nerves and muscles to function correctly [and] it is also involved in the auto-regulation of the water and fluid balance of the body.”
- But! High amounts of salt present a challenge to the kidneys in terms of excretion and and to the heart. “For several million years, human ancestors ate a diet that contained less than 1g/salt per da”
- Additionally, even if your blood pressure does not rise, the function of your arteries seems to deteriorate after just ONE MEAL.
- The WHO Says Lower Salt Intake. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises to lower salt intake in order to lower risks of hypertension, CVD, and stroke.
- This Had Been The Consensus. Meta-analyses (reviews of the current evidence) like this one And large multi-cohort studies like the DASH diet, showed increased risk of high blood pressure and, therefore, heart disease with increased salt intake. Conversely, lowering salt intake lowered blood pressure.
- However, Some Researchers Worry About Too Little There seems to have been some studies showing that “excessively” low-sodium diets – at levels of about 10% of the world average intake, some people have increased risk of CVD.
- “Alderman48)advocated that the relationship between salt intake and the risk of cardiovascular diseases is J-shaped and that salt intake at 5 to 6 g per day might be characterized by the lowest risk of cardiovascular diseases.”
- Anything below that, the reasoning goes, starts to increase risk again
- A Scientific American article from 2011 summarizes the confusion.
- But…Issues With Experiment Set-up For Salt Proponents. As this review suggests, the data from salt proponents may be undependable: “However, in most studies supporting the fact that salt reduction increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, methodological problems have been indicated or study subjects were high-risk patients.
- Salt and Stomach Cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund has found links between people who eat salty or salt-preserved foods and stomach cancer. These studies are mostly out of Asian countries. They side with the WHO’s recommendation to limit to below 5g per day.
My (Current) Take
What we need is sodium, not salt. Salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Table salt is further refined and processed.
Sodium exists naturally in plants and so it is unclear if we need to supplement this with additional sodium. Given we ate less than 500 mg of sodium daily for millennia, which is 10x less than we average now. It seems likely that we are covered by whole, natural foods.
We currently average about 9-12 grams of salt per day which is about 4500-5000 mgs of sodium whereas the WHO advises we get this number down to 2000mg or below, less than a teaspoon of table salt.
It seems prudent to keep salt intake down to an absolute minimum, given the links to cancer and blood pressure. We are more than likely to get the amount we need by just eating out a few times a week – and it seem unnecessary to add it to foods at home.
Worried about taste? If you read Penn Gilette’s new book, or take a look at this study, you’ll find that taste buds adapt to the less-salty food intake overtime and you will, in turn, grow less salty about less salty foods. 🙂
I’ve touched on all of these in the Red and Green Light articles. I am just going to review quickly what I found because I see them all as Yellow Light in the Research.
I spoke about coffee near the green tea part of the Green Light article. The finding there was that while coffee does seem to be beneficial in some studies, including neurological benefits, and an association with reduced risk of death from multiple causes, it still has at least three major concerns:
- Coffee And Heart Disease. It’s complicated. We have this randomized, placebo-controlled trial (An “RCT” to the nerds – the absolute Gold Standard of research in science) that says coffee intake increases homocysteine levels. Homocysteine increases are a marker for Inflammation in the body and therefore not a great thing if you are trying to avoid heart disease or even cancer.
- But.. as the Researcher’s say – the epidemiological evidence on this is conflicted. Some of the long-term associative studies show a reduced risk in heart disease.
- Caffeine, Insulin Resistance, and Hormonal Impact. More conflict. We have this RCT (Nerd alert!) that shows caffeine intake increased serum insulin (blood levels) and lowered a thing called Insulin Sensitivity. This is NOT a good thing. When you are reduce Insulin Sensitivity – or, conversely, Increase its opposite, Insulin Resistance – the insulin cannot get out of the blood stream and so your blood sugar levels go up. This mechanism is linked to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Coffee also seems increase cortisol – which is the “stress hormone.” Chronically high cortisol levels is linked to many ailments and disease.
- It isn’t as good as green tea. IF we are going to drink a stimulant, green tea – better yet, matcha where you are drinking the full green leaf as opposed to its runoff – seems to be way better for us than coffee. AND, green tea typically contains about 1/3 of the caffeine content.
- Green Tea For Prevention of Cognitive Decline. In this study, “No association was found between coffee or black tea consumption and the incidence of dementia or MCI. Our results indicate that green tea consumption is significantly associated with reduced risk of cognitive decline, even after adjustment for possible confounding factors.”
- BONUS – Possible Coffee Myth: BulletSpoof? Mold. In the Bulletproof Diet and Headstrong, Public Interfacer, Dave Asprey, indicates mold (or scientifically, “mycotoxins”) is a concern for brain health in many things including coffee.
- One study from 1980 found : “Because of the extremely low frequency of findings, the low levels of toxins, and the experimental data showing 70–80% destruction by the roasting process of toxin added to green coffee, further study on this topic has been discontinued.”
- A recent study in Spain found that, from a sample of 103 various coffee products, 5 of them (or less than 5%) showed levels of mold that were above the limits of what is considered to be problematic.
- But keep in mind, these 5 were mostly made up of “decaf coffee capsules” When’s the last time you had one of those?
- What Does this Mean? Well, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a real concern, albeit pretty small looking. What it does mean is you may not need to purchase the supposed mold-free, Bulletproof coffee to avoid what looks in the research to be a low probability concern.
Is the hype about chocolate true? I mean, it has been linked in studies like this to lower amounts of plaque in our arteries and lower incidence of various diseases and death.
Why? Well, the argument is that it’s the flavonoids in cacao that seem extremely beneficial when it comes to lowering risk for cardiovascular disease.
However – problems exist. First, most of these studies are short-term. Second, Wonka bars may not be the best vehicle to get cacao, and third, cacao may not be the best source of flavonoids. That’s a lot of reason to pause.
This VOX article is a great overview on the subject and how Big Chocolate (the chocolate industry) has funded studies to make claims. They also point out that to get the amount of flavonoids required for the good impacts – you’d need to eat about 800 calories of chocolate.
Besides the questionable science, what are further problems with chocolate bars?
- Sugar. Chocolate bars have a ton of sugar. The more pure it is – so that number indicating a percentage chocolate – the less sugar. No amount of table sugar seems great as I pointed out here.
- Dairy. I’ve written above about the risks of dairy consumption. Saturated fat, antioxidant-limiting impact, etc.
- Processing. Apparently, the process of making cacao into a Hershey’s bar can severely limit the flavonoid content – rendering it solely a vehicle for sugar and sat-fat.
- Mold again? Apparently, here too, Asprey advises European chocolate because they have higher chocolate inspection standards? I have not confirmed this.
Lastly, not all chocolate is created equal. If you are going to eat it, I would go with raw cacao from CocoaVia, which, according to the below graphic that I got from our favorite Researcher / Public-Interfacer, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, tested as the best source of flavanol and cadmium (i.e. the good shit).
Red wine, the Mediterranean diet, and olive oil. They are all linked to healthier diet, right? Well, it’s hard to say.
As I wrote in my Red Light article, there are reports hinting at potential benefits or countering effects of red wine, such as resveratrol, but, the amounts in red wine seem far, far too low to confer any real benefit, as pointed out in this 2016 review. “…the notion of resveratrol as a “magic bullet” was recently challenged by clinical trials showing that this polyphenol does not have a substantial influence on health status and mortality risk.” It is also probably better found, the concluded, in the original fruits like the actual grape.
And as Dr. Greger shows, people who drink red wine are less likely for heart disease (probably because of the blood thinning impact of alcohol), but MORE likely candidates for cancer. Good trade-off? Eh.
Here’s what we can say, alcohol has been defined by the American Cancer Society as a level one carcinogen – that means that ingestion or exposure can and do lead to cancer.
Might red wine be better? Or is it that people who tend to drink red wine tend to also be healthier? We don’t really seem to know. What we know is that red wine is alcohol, alcohol leads to cancer.
If you want to drink, I have zero problem with that. I have a couple of drinks per week, mostly red wine, in fact. But what we don’t want to do is to lie to ourselves about the risks we are exposing ourselves to. That’s all.
That’s All She Wrote
To Sum That Up (Again)
Well, that was tiring. Imagine me right now gasping, out of breath, in the signature, Ace-Ventur-ian way after citing the athletic prowess of one, Ray Finkle, into the wrong-end of a double-barrel shot-gun.
I hope this was beneficial in some way to you. If not, it certainly proved that I am capable of inordinate wastes of time (like the Kowalskis and their big cookie).
Semi-Serious Point: If I have misspoken or you have questions or you have real evidence (from Researchers) that I have overlooked or wrongly classified in some way – PLEASE, PLEASE PLEASE let me know. Steinfelder@thedilettante.org or just post a comment.
Here’s to knowing what we know and what we don’t know, and making more informed, heartier decisions in 2018. And, here’s to me being really, really funny.