fitness · nutrition

In remembrance of eggs past, or: not bad egg news again!

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the breakfast table: eggs are in the news again, and this time the news ain’t good. This week the nutritional research ouija board people once again asked the eternal question:

The ouija board, asking if eggs are good or bad.
The ouija board, asking if eggs are good or bad.

And the answer (for this week) is:

The ouija board, asking if eggs are good or bad.
A woman in front of a purportedly crystal ball, seeing the badness of the dietary cholesterol found in eggs.

Many readers of this blog know that this is definitely not my first eggs rodeo. I follow egg news very closely and make sure Fit is a Feminist Issue followers are always informed of the latest in good-egg-bad-egg research. Here are some of my previous forays into ovo-journalism:

The new US dietary guidelines, or just tell me– are eggs good or bad this year?

Fake egg news? More on the eggs-good-eggs-bad controversy

Tracy has also written often on food morality: not demonizing foods, avoiding all-or-nothing thinking about nutrition.

Okay, time to give y’all the 411 on the newest egg nutrition results. There is a serious question that nutrition researchers have been wrestling with for decades: what, if any, relationship is there between dietary cholesterol intake and mortality risk? The answer is (as it always is in real science, especially nutrition science): it’s complicated. Here’s some background from the New York Times coverage of the new study, that came out in JAMA on Friday:

Eggs are a leading source of dietary cholesterol, which once was thought to be strongly related to blood cholesterol levels and heart disease. Older studies suggesting that link led to nutrition guidelines almost a decade ago that recommended consuming no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily; one egg contains about 186 milligrams.

Newer research questioned that relationship, finding that saturated fats contribute more to unhealthy levels of blood cholesterol that can lead to heart problems.

The latest U.S. government nutrition guidelines, from 2015, removed the strict daily cholesterol limit. While eating as little cholesterol as possible is still advised, the recommendations say eggs can still be part of a healthy diet, as a good source of protein, along with lean meat, poultry, beans and nuts. Nutrition experts say the new study is unlikely to change that advice.

So what’s new about this study? Here’s what CNN had to say about it:

The researchers examined data from six US study groups including more than 29,000 people followed for 17½ years on average. Over the follow-up period, a total of 5,400 cardiovascular events occurred, including 1,302 fatal and nonfatal strokes, 1,897 incidents of fatal and nonfatal heart failure and 113 other heart disease deaths. An additional 6,132 participants died of other causes.

Consuming an additional 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day was associated with a 3.2% higher risk of heart disease and a 4.4% higher risk of early death, Zhong’s analysis of the data showed. And each additional half an egg consumed per day was associated with a 1.1% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and 1.9% higher risk of early death due to any cause, the researchers found.

Here’s where things get a bit interesting and more complicated. News sources are not consistent in their reporting of these results. The New York Times said this about the results:

The researchers calculated that those who ate 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily — about 1 ½ eggs — were 17 percent more likely to develop heart disease than whose who didn’t eat eggs.

So which is it? Eating 300mg of dietary cholesterol a day, or 300mg MORE of dietary cholesterol (than what?) a day is bad for me? I think the New York Times got it wrong this time.

I went to the original paper, which is long (15 pages, a lot for a medical journal), and has loads of tables with loads of data. In the discussion section (which is always what you want to read when tackling these technical papers), they raise a bunch of issues that bear directly on how to interpret their results, how to understand their results in contrast with eggs-good research results, and what they think is really going on with respect to eggs, dietary cholesterol consumption, and mortality risk:

  • previous meta-studies have been all over the place, finding positive, negative and no correlations between more frequent (more than one a day) egg consumption and risks of death from various diseases.
  • Apparently egg consumption has been associated with low physical activity, smoking, and “unhealthy dietary patterns” (according to the paper). So it’s hard to separate egg consumption effects from these other effects.
  • The associations found between egg consumption and mortality risk were modest, but statistically significant.
  • Researchers claim a dose-response effect of egg consumption, which means the more eggs you eat, the higher the effect.

Their discussion raised some questions for me:

  • Do the researchers think there is a “safe/normal” intake amount of dietary cholesterol? They say the mean intake in the US is 289mg/day, and that taking in 300mg more per day (which would be 1.5 eggs, including half the extra yolk) increases all-cause mortality. But what is their nutritional goal here?
  • When researchers say egg consumption should be reduced, what do they have in mind for its substitutes? Eggs are a big source of animal protein, and lots of other sources have more saturated fat, which has its own scary back story.
  • As always, I am wondering to what extent statistical or research significance translates to clinical or medical significance?
  • All eating happens in social and cultural and economic contexts– if you ask people to reduce eating X, will substituting Y make things better or worse?

What do you think, dear readers? Is this new egg news throwing a monkey wrench into your brunch plans? Are you vegetarian or vegan and don’t care? Is this a reason to increase our vegetarian or vegan eating? Are you inclined to just turn the page and dismiss the nutritional research as a mass of confusion? Should we short-sell egg futures (I don’t know what that means, exactly, but I think it sounds business-y)? I’d love to hear from you.

3 eggs in jars of water-- one bad floater, one so-so lurker, and one good one lying at the bottom of the jar.
3 eggs in jars of water– one bad floater, one so-so lurker, and one good one lying at the bottom of the jar.
fitness · nutrition

The newest processed food nutrition studies: more to chew on

This past Tuesday apparently was Ultra-Processed Food Study Release Day; two studies– one big and one small– were released for the consideration of the Internet. Both of them have bad news about the effects of eating ultra-processed foods: they result in weight gain and contribute to earlier death.

First of all, what is “ultra-processed food”? Yoni Freedhoff, in his Weighty Matters blog, offers two definitions: one fancy, one non-fancy. The fancy one is this:

formulations mostly of cheap industrial sources of dietary energy and nutrients plus additives, using a series of processes

What does this mean? “think of them as the boxes and jars of ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat foods.” Okay. Not that we really need these definitions. As US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in 1964 about the definition of obscenity, “I know it when I see it”.

Back to the studies. Here’s CNN on the big study:

…the researchers enlisted the help of 44,551 French adults 45 and older for two years. Their average age was 57, and nearly 73% of the participants were women. All provided 24-hour dietary records every six months in addition to completing questionnaires about their health (including body-mass index and other measurements), physical activities and sociodemographics. The researchers calculated each participant’s overall dietary intake and consumption of ultraprocessed foods.

Over the study period, 602 participants died. After adjusting for factors such as smoking, the researchers calculated an associated 14% higher risk of early death for each 10% increase in the proportionof ultraprocessed foods consumed.

This study doesn’t investigate why ultra-processed foods increase mortality risk; maybe it’s the chemicals in the packaging, or other features of the manufacturing processes.

The small study, however, provides some interesting detail for further study. Here are its details, courtesy of Yoni Freedhoff:

[Researchers] admitted 10 male and 10 female weight stable adults as inpatients to the Metabolic Clinical Research Unit at the NIH where they lived for 28 days. They were randomly assigned to either the ultra-processed or unprocessed diet for 2 weeks at which point they crossed over to the other diet for two weeks.

During each diet arm, participants were offered 3 daily meals and they were instructed to eat as much or as little of them as they wanted. Menus were designed to be matched for total calories, energy density, macronutrients, fibre, sugar, and sodium, but differed in the percentage of calories coming from ultra-processed sources.

When consuming ultra-processed food diets people ate on average 508 more calories per day. And not surprisingly given this finding, people gained weight on the ultra-processed diet (1.7lbs in just 2 weeks) and lost weight on the flip side (2.4lbs in just 2 weeks).

He adds, “Wow! That’s huge!” Yes, it is. But you might think, this isn’t surprising. People love junky food, and it’s designed to be addictive. Well, the researchers found that the participants didn’t find the ultra-processed food tastier. They just ate more of it. But why?

Here’s something I hadn’t heard about: the protein leverage hypothesis. The idea is that the participants ate more of the ultra-processed foods because their bodies wanted more protein. The amount of protein they consumed on both diets was about the same (also surprising), but the processed stuff had less protein in it, so they ate more to compensate. Of course they didn’t know this– it just happened. Wow. Here’s Yoni again with more detail:

[The researchers] believe might help to explain up to 50% of the increased caloric intake by way of something called the protein leverage hypothesis which suggests our bodies attempt to maintain a constant protein intake, and so people consuming less protein from ultra-processed foods may be eating more of them to try to maintain some predetermined physiologically-desired/governed protein intake. 

We don’t know if this hypothesis is true, but if it is, that is very very interesting news about human metabolism.

I’m still chewing on this, so more as the story unfolds.

fitness · nutrition

No-fat vs. full-fat dairy: the scientific saga goes on. And on…

We’re all used to watching nutrition pendulum swing back and forth, back and forth. You know what I mean:

Pendulum swinging between "good to eat" and "bad to eat".
Pendulum swinging between “good to eat” and “bad to eat”.

One nutritionist blogger made a big list of advice she’s read, which is subject to change without notice:

  • Don’t eat eggs, they are too high in cholesterol.
  • Really, don’t eat any fat because it is all bad for your heart.
  • Don’t drink caffeine containing beverages.
  • Don’t drink soda or juice, they are full of sugar.
  • Don’t drink diet drinks because they will give you cancer.
  • Drink only water, but be careful because the bottle is harmful and tap water is full of contaminants and the natural spring water is really bottled from the tap at the bottling company.
  • Don’t use salt in cooking and avoid all foods made with salt.
  • Oh yeah, you can use sea salt or Himalayan salt.
  • Don’t eat butter, only eat margarine.
  • Oh yeah, don’t ever eat margarine because it contains trans fat.
  • Oh yeah, don’t eat any fat.
  • Oh yeah, eat as much coconut fat as you want, it’s a good saturated fat.

Last month, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) took on the issue of whole-fat vs. non-fat dairy consumption: which is better for us?

tl:dr version: they don’t know. But they want us to eat low-fat dairy anyway.

It’s not for lack of trying that they don’t know whether high-fat dairy or no-fat dairy promotes or detracts from health, and in what ways. They’ve tried. Oh, they’ve tried a lot. But the results are conflicting.

…some recent studies have suggested that high-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt are at least as healthful as their low-fat or nonfat counterparts, and their authors are questioning the wisdom of advising people to avoid whole milk and products made with it.
“I don’t think there’s enough evidence to recommend low-fat dairy,” said cardiologist Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. However, Mozaffarian added, “I don’t think there’s enough evidence to recommend whole-fat dairy, either.”

JAMA Dec 5, 2018

Uh, okay. But why isn’t there enough evidence to answer this question?

Part of the problem is dairy’s fault. Well, not really. But dairy products are not all created equal. Some cheeses are fermented, and some yogurts have probiotics, says Frank Hu, nutrition chair at Harvard School of Public Health.

Also, we eat dairy in different ways, Hu says:


For example, Hu said, while US consumers chow down on cheeseburgers and pizza, Europeans are more likely to eat cheese for cheese’s sake, not as a topping for foods that without it are already high in fat or sodium or both.

JAMA again

When researchers try to study the effects of dairy fat intake, they have to deal with the problems of which dairy products may be responsible for which effects, and which populations are affected by these results, as different regions eat different dairy products at differing rates.

Okay, fine. Maybe we need to throw some fancy technology at the problem– how about looking at biomarkers and seeing if there are correlations with risk for heart disease and other potentially related health problems?

They did that, too. No luck.

There are ongoing observational studies, where researchers observe and measure lots of features of participants who are consuming varying amounts of dairy fat in their diets over time. But even when they get results from these studies, they don’t tend to trust them:

[Mario Kratz, nutrition professor, University of Washington] “…people who eat the most full-fat dairy products in observational studies are usually among the ones who gain the least amount of weight.” That seems counterintuitive, but …“it’s very likely that there’s a type of compensation going on.” Low-fat or nonfat dairy isn’t as filling as whole-fat dairy, so people might end up craving unhealthy snacks if they opt for the former, he said. However, he added, “I would never recommend people consume large amounts of butter and cream.”

Still JAMA; I’ll let you know when it changes.

Hey Mario– why wouldn’t you recommend that people eat lots of butter and cream? You just said there’s not evidence that it’s bad for us.

Well, maybe Mario is just following the US Dietary Guidelines on Dairy, which say this:

  • Recommendations are 2 cups (or the equivalent in yogurt or cheese) for children ages 2 to 3 years, 2½ cups for children ages 4 to 8 years, and 3 cups for teens ages 9 to 18 years and for adults.
  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy are advised.

Frank Hu is of the same view. Even though there doesn’t seem to be much firm evidence that high-fat dairy is bad for us (and there’s some evidence that it’s good for us), he says he doesn’t expect nutrition recommendations to change soon. Why? Because “more research is needed to examine health effects of different types of dairy products in diverse populations.”

So, we’re back to they don’t know. But they are still recommending low or no-fat dairy consumption.

You might think: well, better safe than sorry. But the thing is, they don’t know which is safer– no-fat or high-fat dairy. And I would be very sorry to have to eat low or no-fat dairy, as it doesn’t taste like anything to me. But Frank Hu says we shouldn’t stress about it; “Overall dietary pattern is very important, and dairy is only 1 of many food items on our plate.”

Excellent. In that case, I am going to not stress and enjoy these.

Whole milk and cream in glass pitchers, sitting on a rustic and attractive wood table.
Whole milk and cream in glass pitchers, sitting on a rustic and attractive wood table.
Whole milk greek yogurt with a spoon, sitting on a rustic and attractive wood table.
Whole milk greek yogurt with a spoon, sitting on a rustic and attractive wood table.
Whole fat cheeses, on a rustic attractive wood cutting board.
Whole fat cheeses, on a rustic and attractive wood cutting board.

What do you do when you read some new nutritional advice? Do you take it with a grain of salt (provided you don’t eat low-sodium)? Do you shift with the pendulum? Do you ignore them all? I’d love to hear from you.

diets · eating · fitness · food · holiday fitness · holidays · Martha's Musings · nutrition · season transitions

T’is the season to detox yourself from cleanses, diets and weird wellness claims

By MarthaFitat55

It’s not even December 1 and I have been seeing a non-stop stream of ads, posts and recommended links on all manner of cleanses. Some are short, some are long, some are liquid, and some are minimal. All are useless.

Timothey Caulfield at the University of Alberta debunks the latest holiday cleanses in this article. Caulfield writes:

The idea that we need to cleanse and detoxify our bodies seems to have become a culturally accepted fact. This feels especially true around the holidays which are associated with heavy foods and even heavier shame about what that turkey and gravy and wine might be doing to our insides. After a weekend of indulgence, wellness gurus cry, your body is begging for a detox. But is it?

 While there is something to be said for countering a week (or two) of indulgence with lighter fare, unless you were born liver-less or you lost your liver along the way, the human body has its own detox system right inside you: the aforementioned liver and kidneys.

 There’s a huge market out there and if you build it, make it, sell it, they will come. The promises are endless but the long and short of it is simple: today’s cleanses and detox programs are primarily designed to relieve you of your money.

The sellers of these cleanses rely on fear and vanity, and also on society’s preoccupation on thinness. The messages are often wrapped upin social beliefs about health and wellness.

 We empower people to take charge of their health, especially women who are often responsible for managing their well being along with those of their families. Who wants to be known as someone who does not care about their health? Not me.

While the social imperative to diet, to cleanse, to eat clean is present year-round, there seems to be special pressure in December to do any number of things to ensure we have the perfect body.

 All the ads I have seen lead me to believe that we must cleanse the body the same way we cleanse our homes for special occasions this time of year. In January, when the new year has begun and we barely have had time to vacuum the pine needles and expunge the last piece of glitter from our homes, we get a different chorus but still with the same tune.

I suggest, if we are to cleanse anything, it is these sorts of unhelpful and unhealthy approaches to wellness.

So if you are confused and challenged by all that you see, remember this: everything in moderation. Your body will do what it needs to do. Fuel it appropriately.  Move lots (preferably outside if it isn’t blowing a gale). Get lots of sleep. Drink lots of water. Have fun.

MarthaFitat55 lives and writes in St. John’s.

aging · nutrition · weight lifting

Muscle loss is in the news again

A rock, painted white, with the words “as strong as a wolf” painted on it. Seen outside the athletic centre at the University of Guelph.


But this time with a weight loss angle.

See my past posts: Protein, age, and muscle loss.  and Want to keep muscle after 40?: Eat all the protein and lift all the things

It’s a thing that I care about. 

And I hate the idea that some people, especially women, might welcome it, because it means weight loss.

From an article in the Globe and Mail, by Alex Hutchinson, We need better guidelines to deal with age-related muscle loss.

“You might be relieved to hear that the creeping weight gain of middle age – a pound or two (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a year starting in your 20s, on average – eventually grinds to a halt. By the time you’re in your 50s, you’ll typically start slowly shedding weight. Don’t celebrate yet, though. There’s a good chance that the weight you’re losing is muscle – precisely what you need to hang onto to stay metabolically healthy and independent into old age. “

Why does this happen? Partly because we exercise less but that’s not the whole story. The article talks about ‘anabolic resistance.’ Our bodies no longer, as we age, respond the same way to strength training and protein. Like insulin resistance in diabetics our bodies no longer respond as effectively to protein and to exercise. We need more of both, not less, as we age.

There’s also a concern about the kinds of protein and when we eat them.

Writes Hutchinson: “It’s not just how much you eat. There’s some evidence that spreading your protein across three meals triggers more muscle growth than just downing a massive steak at dinner. And protein quality matters too, with certain amino acids such as leucine playing an outsized role in muscle growth. That means animal proteins such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy tend to pack a bigger punch than plant proteins, although Oliveira emphasizes that variety is also important.”

It’s a challenge to eat the 1.0 to 1.5 g of protein per kg of body weight per day that’s recommended. 

What about exercise? What should we do to stave off muscle loss?

“The overall picture from existing research is that full-body resistance training with loads that get progressively harder over time, two to three times a week, is optimal for older adults. One study published last year found that two harder workouts plus one easier one produced the best results, perhaps because older strength-trainers simply couldn’t recover quickly enough to do three hard workouts each week.”

See you at the gym! Maybe we can go for a protein shake after? 

fit at mid-life · fitness · food · health · nutrition · training

Visit Tracy at the NJ VegFest 2018 this weekend

Image description: Poster with SATURDAY 10/6 at the top, the heading "Speakers" on the left, with photos of Dr. Joel Kahn and Tracy Isaacs underneath, and "Chef Demos" on the right, with photos of Gianna Ciaramello, Mini Dhingra, and Alyssa Miller underneath.
Image description: Poster with SATURDAY 10/6 at the top, the heading “Speakers” on the left, with photos of Dr. Joel Kahn and Tracy Isaacs underneath, and “Chef Demos” on the right, with photos of Gianna Ciaramello, Mini Dhingra, and Alyssa Miller underneath.

Hey everyone! Exciting times. I’m going to be one of the speakers at the New Jersey VegFest at Meadowlands Expo Centre this weekend. My talk, “Feminist Fitness Is for Everyone, including Vegans,” is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 6th. I’ll talk about what feminist fitness is, how Sam and I took that approach for our Fittest by 50 Challenge, the blog, the book, and being a vegan athlete at mid-life.  They’ll be selling copies of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (Greystone Books, 2018) and I’ll be sticking around after my talk to chat, sign books (whether you buy it there or bring it with you), and of course eat!  [I might also talk a little bit about my next book project, which is about ethical veganism and the expectation of moral perfection that vegans and non-vegans alike seem to adopt]

Marisa Sweeney and Kendra Arnold are the two main organizers and ever since they asked me to do this I’ve been following the NJ VegFest scene with envy. It’s not limited to this event — there was an Atlantic City VegFest in the summer (with a 10K run) where Scott Jurek spoke. Marisa and Kendra do an outstanding job and I can’t wait to experience one of their events first hand and to meet them.

It looks as if it’s going to be an amazing time, quite apart from my talk. There are going to be chef demos, other speakers, and loads of vendors serving up delicious vegan food. If you want to get a preview, I suggest following @njvegfest on Instagram.

One of the things Sam and I love most about the blog is the community that has sprung up around us. If you do decide to come, please please please say “hi.” I would love that.

I also have a favour to ask of people who live in the Manhattan area. Anita and I will be looking for a good running route on Sunday morning to do about 15K. If you have any recommendations for where we might do that distance without encountering too many traffic lights we’d love to hear from you.

Here’s the Sunday line-up for the VegFest:

Image description: Poster with SUNDAY 10/7 at the top. Under that three columns. "Food Justice Panel," with photos of Vincent DePaul and Michelle Carrera; "Supporting Vegan Kids and Caregivers Panel," with photos of Beth Cruz, Melody Lin, Michelle Carrera; "Chef Demos" with photos of Tere Fox, Amanda Borges, and Chef Rootsie.
Image description: Poster with SUNDAY 10/7 at the top. Under that three columns. “Food Justice Panel,” with photos of Vincent DePaul and Michelle Carrera; “Supporting Vegan Kids and Caregivers Panel,” with photos of Beth Cruz, Melody Lin, Michelle Carrera; “Chef Demos” with photos of Tere Fox, Amanda Borges, and Chef Rootsie.

 

food · nutrition · sports nutrition

What is healthy eating anyway?

I don’t usually share tweets and Twitter threads but sometimes they are so good you need to make an exception.

This thread from the Fat Nutritionist came to my attention via David. Thks David!

“I suspect that like 95% of the food choices people make (when they have the luxury of choice) are purely symbolic. I suspect this because “How does this food affect your body’s functioning?” is a completely new idea to nearly everyone I ask it of.”

Anyway, go read the whole thing. It’s great.