Archive for the ‘The Nutrition Story’ Category

 

One of my favorite legal terms, collateral estoppel, refers to procedures to prevent re-litigation of issues that have already been settled in court. From the same root as stopper, that is, cork, it prevents harassment and wasting of the court’s time. The context is the recent flap over a poster presented by Kevin Hall which has started re-trying the case of whether all diets have the same metabolic efficiency, a question which, in my view, has been adjudicated several times. I put it this way because frequently I have made an analogy between evidence-based-medicine (EBM) and evidence as presented in a court of law. My main point has been that, in the legal system, there are rules of evidence and there is a judge who decides on admissibility. You can’t just say, as in EBM, that your stuff constitutes evidence.  My conclusion is usually that EBM is one of the self-congratulatory procedures that allows people to say anything that they want without having to defend their position. EBM represents one of the many corruptions of research procedure now under attack by critics (perpetrators ?) as in the recent editorial by Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet. One thing that I  criticize medical nutrition for is its inability to be estopped from funding and endlessly re-investigating whether saturated fat causes heart disease, whether high protein diets hurt your kidneys, and whether a calorie is a calorie. It seems that the issue is more or less settled — there are dozens of examples of variable energy expenditure in the literature. It would be reasonable to move on by investigating the factors that control energy balance, to provide information on the mechanisms that predict great variability and, most important, the mechanisms that make it so small in biological systems — most of the time, a calorie is a calorie, at least roughly. Funding and performing ever more expensive experiments to decide whether you can lose more or less weight on one diet or another, as if we had never done a test before, is not helpful.

Several bloggers discussed Hall’s study which claims that either a calorie is a calorie or it is not depending on whether, as described by Mike Eades, you look at the poster itself or at a video of Kevin Hall explaining what it is about. Mike’s blog is excellent but beyond the sense of déja-vu, the whole thing reminded me of the old joke about the Polish mafia. They make you an offer that you can’t understand.  So, because this is how I got into this business, I will try to explain how I see the problem of energy balance and why we might want this trial estopped.

I have taught nutrition and metabolism for many years but I got into nutrition research because the laws of thermodynamics were, and still are, invoked frequently in the discussion. Like most chemists, I wouldn’t claim to be a real expert but I like the subject and I teach the subject at some level. I could at least see that nobody in nutrition knew what they were talking about. I tried to show that the application of thermodynamics, if done correctly, more or less predicts that different diets will have different efficiencies (from the standpoint of storage, that is, weight gained per calorie consumed).

But you don’t really need thermodynamics to see this. Prof. Wendy Pogozelski at SUNY Geneseo pointed out that if you think about oxidative metabolic uncouplers, that is all you need to know. “Coupling,” in energy metabolism, refers to the sequence of reactions by which the energy from the oxidation of food is converted to ATP, that is, into useful biologic energy. The problem in energy metabolism is that the fuel, as in many “combustion engines,” is processed by oxidation — you put in oxygen and get out CO2 and water . The output, on the other hand  is a phosphorylation reaction — generation of ATP from ADP, its low energy form. The problem is how to couple these two different kins of reactions. It turns out that the mitochondrial membrane couples the two processes (together called oxidative phosphorylation). A “high energy” state is established across the membrane by oxidation and this energy is used to make ATP. Uncouplers are small molecules or proteins that disengage the oxidation of substrate (food) from ATP synthesis allowing energy to be wasted or channeled into other mechanisms, generation of reactive oxygen species, for example.

BLOG_car_analogy_May_16The car analogy of metabolic inhibitors. Figure from my lectures. Energy is generated in the TCA cycle and electron transport chain (ETC). The clutch plays the role of the membrane proton gradient, transmitting energy to the wheels which produce forward motion (phosphorylation of ADP). Uncouplers allow oxidation to continue — the TCA cycle is “racing” but to no effect. Other inhibitors (called oxidative phosphorylation inhibitors) include oligomycin which blocks the ATP synthase, analogous to a block under the wheels: no phosphorylation, no utilization of the gradient; no utilization, no gradient formation; no gradient, no oxidation. The engine “stalls.”

In teaching metabolism, I usually use the analogy of an automobile where the clutch connects the engine to the drive train . The German word for clutch is Kupplung and when you put a car in neutral your car is uncoupled, can process many calories of gasoline ‘in,’ but has zero efficiency, so that none of the ‘out’ does the useful work of turning the wheels. Biological systems can be uncoupled by external compounds — the classic is 2, 4-dinitrophenol which, if you are familiar with mitochondrial metabolism, is a proton ionophore, that is, destroys the proton gradient that couples oxidation to ADP-phophorylation.  There are natural uncouplers, the uncoupling proteins, of which there are five, named UCP-1 through UCP-5. Considered a family because of the homology to UCP-1, a known uncoupler, it has turned out that at least two others clearly have uncoupling activity. The take-home message is that whatever the calories in, the useful calories out (for fat storage or whatever) depends on the presence of added or naturally occurring uncouplers as well.

This is one of many examples of the mechanisms whereby metabolic calories-out per calorie-in could be variable.  The implication is that when somebody reports metabolic advantage (or disadvantage), there is no reason to disbelieve it. Conversely, this is one of the mechanisms that can reduce variability.

In fact, homeostatic mechanisms  are usually observed. You don’t have to have a metabolic chamber to know that your intake is variable day-to-day but your weight may be quite stable. The explanation is not in the physics which, again,  predicts variation, but rather in the biological system which is always connected in feedback so as to resist change. However strong the homeostasis (maintenance of steady-state), conversely, everybody has the experience of being in a situation where it doesn’t happen. “I don’t understand. I went on this cruise and I really pigged out on lobster and steak but I didn’t gain any weight.”  (It is not excluded, but nobody ever says that about the pancake breakfast). In other words, biochemistry and daily experience tells us that black swans are to be expected and, given that the system is set up for variability, the real question is why there are so many white swans.

So it is physically predicted that a calorie is not a calorie. When it has been demonstrated, in animal models where there is control of the food intake, or in humans, where there are frequently big differences that cannot reasonably be accounted for by the error in food records, there is no reason to doubt the effect. And, of course, a black swan is an individual. Kevin Hall’s study, as in much of the medical literature, reported group statistics and we don’t know if there were a few winners in with the group. The work has not been reviewed or published but, either way, I think it is likely to waste the court’s time.

 

Doctor:    Therein the patient

  Must minister to himself.

Macbeth: Throw physic [medicine] to the dogs; I’ll none of it.

— William Shakespeare, Macbeth

The quality of nutrition papers even in the major scientific and medical journals is so variable and the lack of restraint in the popular media is so great that it is hard to see how the general public or even scientists can find out anything at all. Editors and reviewers are the traditional gate-keepers in science but in an area where rigid dogma has reached Galilean proportions, it is questionable that any meaningful judgement was made: it is easy to publish papers that conform to the party line (“Because of the deleterious effects of dietary fructose, we hypothesized that…”) and hard to publish others: when JAMA published George Bray’s “calorie-is-a-calorie” paper and I pointed out that the study more accurately supported the importance of carbohydrate as a controlling variable, the editor declined to publish my letter.  In this, the blogs have performed a valuable service in providing an alternative POV but if the unreliability is a problem in the scientific literature, that problem is multiplied in internet sources. In the end, the consumer may feel that they are pretty much out there on their own. I will try to help.  The following was posted on FatHead’s Facebook page:

 How does one know if a study is ‘flawed’? I see a lot of posts on here that say a lot of major studies are flawed. How? Why? What’s the difference if I am gullible and believe all the flawed studies, or if I (am hopefully not a sucker) believe what the Fat Heads are saying and not to believe the flawed studies — eat bacon.

Where are the true studies that are NOT flawed…. and how do I differentiate? : /

 My comment was that it was a great question and that it would be in the next post so I will try to give some of the principles that reviewers should adhere to.  Here’s a couple of guides to get started. More in future posts:

 1“Healthy” (or “healthful”) is not a scientific term. If a study describes a diet as “healthy,” it is almost guaranteed to be a flawed study.  If we knew which diets were “healthy,” we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic. A good example is the paper by Appel, et al. (2005). “Effects of protein, monounsaturated fat, and carbohydrate intake on blood pressure and serum lipids: results of the OmniHeart randomized trial,” whose conclusion is:

“In the setting of a healthful diet, partial substitution of carbohydrate with either protein or monounsaturated fat can further lower blood pressure, improve lipid levels, and reduce estimated cardiovascular risk.”

 It’s hard to know how healthful the original diet, a “carbohydrate-rich diet used in the DASH trials … currently advocated in several scientific reports” really is if removing carbohydrate improved everything.

Generally, understatement  is good.  One of the more famous is from Watson & Cricks’s 1953 paper in which they proposed the DNA double helix structure. They said “It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.”  A study with the word “healthy” is an infomercial.

2. Look for the pictures (figures).  Presentation in graphic form usually means the author wants to explain things to you, rather than snow you.  This is part of the Golden Rule of Statistics that I mentioned in my blogpost “The Seventh Egg”  which discusses a very flawed study from Harvard on egg consumption. The rule comes from the book PDQ Statistics:

“The important point…is that the onus is on the author to convey to the reader an accurate impression of what the data look like, using graphs or standard measures, before beginning the statistical shenanigans.  Any paper that doesn’t do this should be viewed from the outset with considerable suspicion.”

The Watson-Crick  paper cited above had the diagram of the double-helix  which essentially became the symbol of modern biology.  It was drawn by Odile, Francis’s wife, who is described as being famous for her nudes, only one of which I could find on the internet.

Krauss, et. al. Separate effects of reduced carbohydrate intake and weight loss on atherogenic dyslipidemia.

The absence of a figure may indicate that the authors are not giving you a chance to actually see the results, that is, the experiment may not be flawed but the interpretation may be misleading, intentionally or otherwise.  An important illustration of the principle is a paper published by Krauss. It is worth looking at this paper in detail because the experimental work is very good and the paper directly — or almost directly — confronts a big question in diet studies: when you reduce calories by cutting out carbohydrate, is the effect due simply  to lowering calories or is there a specific effect of carbohydrate restriction.  The problem is important since many studies compare low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets where calories are reduced on both. Because the low-carbohydrate diet generally has the better weight loss and better improvement in HDL and triglycerides, it is said that it was the weight loss that caused the lipid improvements.

So Krauss compared the effects of carbohydrate restriction and weight loss on the collection of lipid markers known collectively as atherogenic dyslipidemia.  The markers of atherogenic dyslipidemia, which are assumed to predispose to cardiovascular disease, include high triglycerides (triacylglycerol), low HDL and high concentrations of the small dense LDL.

Here is how the experiment was set up: subjects first consumed a baseline diet of  54% of energy as carbohydrate, for 1 week. They were then assigned to one of four groups.  Either they continued the baseline diet, or they kept calories constant but reduced carbohydrate by putting fat in its place.  The three lower carbohydrate diets had 39 % or 26 % carbohydrate or 26 % carbohydrate with higher saturated fat.  After 3 weeks on constant calories but reduced carbohydrate, calories were decreased by 1000 kcal/d for 5 week and, finally, energy was stabilized for 4 weeks and the features of atherogenic dyslidemia were measured at week 13.  The protocol is shown in the figure from Krauss’s paper:

The Abstract of the paper describes the outcomes and the authors’ conclusions.

Results: The 26%-carbohydrate, low-saturated-fat diet reduced [atherogenic dylipidemia]. These changes were significantly different from those with the 54%-carbohydrate diet. After subsequent weight loss, the changes in all these variables were significantly greater…(my italics)

 Conclusions: Moderate carbohydrate restriction and weight loss provide equivalent but non-additive approaches to improving atherogenic dyslipidemia. Moreover, beneficial lipid changes resulting from a reduced carbohydrate intake were not significant after weight loss.

Now there is something odd about this.  It is the last line of the conclusion that is really weird. If you lose weight, the effect of carbohydrate is not significant?  As described below, Jeff Volek and I re-analyzed this paper so I have read that line a dozen times and I have no idea what it means.  In fact, the whole abstract is strange.  It will turn out that the lower (26 %) is certainly “significantly different from.. the 54%-carbohydrate diet” but it is not just different but much better. Why would you not say that?  The Abstract is generally written so that it sounds negative about low carbohydrate effects but it is already known from Krauss’s previous work and others that carbohydrate restriction has a beneficial effect on lipids and the improvements in lipid markers occur on low-carbohydrate diets whether weight is lost or not.  The last sentence doesn’t seem to make any sense at all.    For one thing, the experiment wasn’t done that way.  As set up, weight loss came after carbohydrate restriction.  So, let’s look at the data in the paper.  There are few figures in the paper and Table 2 in the paper presents the results in a totally mind-numbing layout.  Confronted with data like this, I sometimes stop reading.  After all, if the author doesn’t want to conform to the Golden Rule of Statistics, if they don’t want to really explain what they accomplished, how much impact is the paper going to have.  In this case, however, it is clear that the experiment was designed correctly and it just seems impossible from previous work that this wouldn’t support the benefits of carbohydrate restriction and the negative tone of the Abstract needs to be explained.  So we all had to slog through those tables.  Let’s just look at the triglycerides since this is one of the more telling attributes of atherogenic dyslpidemia.  Here’s the section from the Table:

Well this looks odd in that the biggest change is in the lowest carb group with high SF but it’s hard to tell what the data look like.  First it is reported as logarithms. You sometime take logs of your data in order to do a statistical determination but that doesn’t change the data and it is better to report the actual value.  In any case, it’s easy enough to take antilogs and we can plot the data.  This is what it looks like:

It’s not hard to see what the data really show: Reducing carbohydrate has an overwhelming effect on triglycerides even without weight loss.  When weight loss is introduced, the high carbohydrate diets still can’t equal the performance of the carbohydrate reduction phase.  (The dotted line in the figure are data from Volek’s earlier work which Krauss forgot to cite).

The statements in the Conclusion from the Abstract are false and totally misrepresent the data.  It is not true as it says “carbohydrate restriction and weight loss provide equivalent…” effects. The carbohydrate-reduction phase is dramatically better than the calorie restriction phase and it is not true that they are “non-additive”  Is this an oversight?  Poor writing?  Well, nobody knows what Krauss’s motivations were but Volek and I plotted all of the data from Krauss’s paper and we published a paper in Nutrition & Metabolism providing an interpretation of Krauss’s work (with pictures).  Our conclusion:

Summary Although some effort is required to disentangle the data and interpretation, the recent publication from Krauss et al. should be recognized as a breakthrough. Their findings… make it clear that the salutary effects of CR on dyslipidemia do not require weight loss, a benefit that is not a feature of strategies based on fat reduction. As such, Krauss et al.  provides one of the strongest arguments to date for CR as a fundamental approach to diet, especially for treating atherogenic dyslipidemia.

An important question in this experiment, however, is whether even in the calorie reduction phase, calories are actually the important variable.  This is a general problem in calorie restriction studies if for no other reason than that there is no identified calorie receptor.  When we published this data, Mike Eades pointed out that in the phase in which Krauss reduced calories, it was done by reducing macronutrients across the board so carbohydrate was also reduced and that might be the actual controlling variable so we plotted the TAG against carbohydrate in each phase (low, medium and high carb (LC, MC, HC) without or with weight loss (+WL) and the results are shown below

This is remarkably good agreement for a nutrition study. When you consider carbohydrates as the independent variable, you can see what’s going on.  Or can you?  After all, by changing the variables you have only made an association between carbohydrate and outcome  of an experiment. So does this imply a causal relation between carbohydrate and triglycerides or not?  It is widely said that observational studies do not imply causality, that observational studies can only provide hypothesis for future testing. It certainly seems like causality is implied here.  It will turn out that a more accurate description is that observational studies do not necessarily imply causality and I will discuss that in the next posts.  The bottom line will be that there is flaw in grand principles like “Random controlled trials are the gold standard.” “Observational studies are only good for generating hypotheses,”  “Metabolic Ward Studies are the gold standard.” Science doesn’t run on such arbitrary rules.

The Office of Research Integrity is hosting a conference on the Quest for Research Excellence and, for the first time, there is session that directly confronts policy and The Crises in Nutrition. The Speakers will delineate the problem — the two worlds of establishment nutrition and the major challenge of low carbohydrate diets, the growing problems of childhood obesity and our failure to deal with it, the confusion in the popular press on scientific issues, and finally, the voice of the patient, the failure to listen to the people who are dissatisfied with official guidelines and who have found workable solutions themselves. Three specific goals are recommended: 1) open hearings in which all researchers are represented, 2) funding research in which all people in low carbohydrate research work with others and finally, 3) a new oversight agency from NSF or Office of Research and Technology Policy.

The three goals may be a useful crystallizing point for moving forward. What can you do?

  1. Contact your elected officials and copy one of the authors from the conference. Use the Abstracts below as a basis for your own version of what needs to be done. The three goals can be more narrowly focussed for your own interests.
  2. Encourage local media to cover the meeting. Information is at http://ori.hhs.gov and the speakers can be contacted directly.
  3. Publicize your version of the three goals on your blog, your facebook page or other social media.

2011 Office of Research Integrity Conference Washington DC

Quest for Research Excellence, March 15, 2012.

Session on Crisis in Nutrition.

Chair: Richard David Feinman Contact Information: feinman@mac.com (917) 554-7794

Introduction and Abstracts.

The interest in nutrition for general health and for the prevention and treatment of disease is probably greater than at any time in history. A fairly large research community has grown up to provide information on the subject but the excellence of the results and their ability to inform the general public is highly questionable. The prospect for the future quality of research is similarly discouraging. This session focusses on a crisis in nutrition: the confusion in the public’s mind and the lack of accountability of official agencies and their failure to consider minority points of view. Four areas are considered in this session: the need to consider work that has been done on carbohydrate restriction (the major alternative to current recommendations), the limitations of current media representations of research, the problem of childhood obesity, and finally, the failure to listen to the patients who have not been well served by current ideas and who have discovered alternatives for themselves. The public, athrough forums and comments to blogs and other social media, have expressed substantial dissatisfaction with the current state of medical nutrition.

Three approaches are suggested as first steps for resolving the current crises:

  1. First, we need hearings to be held by congress or HHS in which all major researchers in nutrition are represented. We have to have everybody in the game. The USDA guidelines committee, the American Health Association nutrition panels have to meet with their critics. In particular, researchers in dietary carbohydrate restriction should be able to meet and discuss issues with their critics. This is what the government can do. Better than taxation or other punitive measures, they can bring out the information. The NIH or congress should hold meaningful hearings where all sides are heard.
  1. Second, we need to fund a study in which researchers in dietary carbohydrate restriction and critics of such diets cooperate to design a long-term comparison of CRD and low-fat diets, Mediterranean diets or whatever. The groups agree on methods of procedure, make-up of the diets, how compliance will be effected, and what parameters will be measured. They “write the paper first, leaving room for the data,” that is, they agree in advance on what the possible outcomes are and what conclusions could be drawn from them. In this way, the public and other scientists will have a sense that the issues have adequately been addressed and the results reliably evaluated.
  1. Finally, what’s needed is the creation of a new oversight organization, possibly under the auspices of the National Science Foundation or the Office of Science and Technology Policy in which scientists with no personal stake in nutrition, assess bias in grant awards and publications. The scientific principles involved in nutrition are neither so technical nor so profound that accomplished scientists from other fields cannot evaluate them. Such organizations might make recommendations (or indicate the limitations in existing knowledge that prevent making recommendations) after hearing all credentialed experts.

In the end, we have to say whether there is really a problem or not. Is their really an epidemic of obesity and overweight? Is there a crisis in the incidence of diabetes, or not? Are our health problems, the rising cost, the patient suffering, real? If they’re real, we have to use everything we have. We have to have real science and we can’t continue with one expert committee after another making recommendations but taking no responsibility for outcomes and refusing to show any willingness to confront their critics.

Crisis in nutrition: I. Research Integrity and the Challenge of Carbohydrate Restriction.

Author: Richard David Feinman.

Objective: Research integrity extends beyond falsification of data and explicit misconduct. We assessed the extent to which established majority opinion recommending dietary fat and saturated fat reduction has failed to cite contradictory evidence, accepted undocumented conclusions and marginalized contributions of alternative points of view, specifically the role of dietary carbohydrate restriction, the major challenge to current recommendations..

Main points: Government and private health agencies have long recommended a reduction in dietary fat, particularly saturated fat, in the treatment or prevention of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. While there are many disclaimers, low-fat in some form remains the standard nutritional recommendation. Alternative strategies based on control of insulin fluctuations via carbohydrate restriction, while widely used by many in the community, have been discouraged if not actually attacked. This has contributed to a “two worlds” system that has increased confusion among scientists and the public. While there are many exceptions and some emerging acceptance of carbohydrate restriction — which frequently fails to cite earlier work — there is a perception of a majority opinion with pervasive control of the scientific infrastructure: editorial boards, study sections and health agency administration. Examples will be given of undocumented negative statements about low-carbohydrate diets, misrepresentation of data and extensive failure to cite relevant papers from the literature. Most troubling is the tendency to accept some of the conclusions previously demonstrated in low-carbohydrate research without, again, giving appropriate citations to that research. This has led a significant part of the population to distrust official recommendations and medical science.

There is a need to re-evaluate published data on carbohydrate restriction and to guarantee adequate peer review of future manuscripts and grant applications on macronutrient composition of the diet. More generally, better communication and cooperation between researchers and physicians with different opinions can only benefit science and society, a society that is admittedly not making good progress on obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Conclusions & Recommendations:

Recommendations for better integration of different points of view include government-sponsored meetings where all scientific approaches can present their own opinions and address critics, representation on study sections and editorial boards of people with experience in carbohydrate restriction-insulin control diets and long term comparative trials that include PIs with experience and understanding of the role of the glucose-insulin axis in obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Agreement in advance between the “two worlds” as to the expected outcomes and interpretations would provide most benefit for the public and scientist-community interactions. Given the pervasiveness of the problem, in the end, intervention of new oversight agencies, e.g. from NSF or Office of Science and Technology, may be needed

Figure 1. Comparison of low-carbohydrate diets to low-GI diets and high cereal diets.

Crisis in nutrition: II. The popular media and research publications  

Author: Richard David Feinman.

Objective: The public relies on popular media for description of nutrition research. A major interest is the controversy over macronutrient composition of the diet and particularly the role carbohydrate-restriction, the major challenge to official recommendations. The goal is to assess the extent to which statements to the media and especially press releases from authors, author institutions and journals accurately represent the results of reported research. To determine the extent to which personal bias influences and is taken as fact by the media.

Main points: Authors of research papers should sensibly have great freedom in describing the implications of their research to the media, but it is important that the public be aware of when that opinion does or does not follow directly from the publication. Two examples are given. In one, an animal study (Foo, et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2009, 106: 15418-15423), the accompanying press release implied that it was motivated by observations of patients in a hospital which were not described, were unsubstantiated and would have been purely anecdotal. In a second example, a press release stated that carbohydrate-restricted diets (CRDs) were not included in a comparative study because of their low compliance (Sacks, et al. N Engl J Med 2009, 360: 859-873. No data were given to support this assertion and it is, in fact not true — CRDs have, on average, better compliance than other dietary interventions. The study concluded that the macronutrient composition of the diet was not important even though, as implemented, dietary intake was the same for the groups studied and, again, the CRD was not included in the study. It seems likely that that this would have an inhibiting effect on the willingness of individuals to choose a CRD, an outcome that was not justified by the published research.

Conclusions & recommendations: Practices should be evaluated and guidelines should be generated by academic societies, scientific journals and the popular media as to what constitutes appropriate press description of published research. Reasonable principle are that only those specific conclusions that derive directly from the publication. The generally accepted idea that authors make clear what is their personal opinion and what is the product of research should be the norm.

Biography: Richard David Feinman, PhD in Chemistry (University of Oregon) is Professor of Cell Biology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. His current area of research is nutritional biochemistry and biochemical education especially as it relates to macronutrients and bioenergetics. He is founder of the Nutrition & Metabolism Society and former co-editor-in-chief of the journal Nutrition & Metabolism.

Figure 2. The world according to Reuters. Low-fat is good. It’s bad. It’s not as bad as we thought. Wait! Eat more fruits and vegetables. “The low-dat diet craze?” Is that what it’s been? Is?

Crisis in nutrition: III. Childhood Obesity: Prevention and Intervention 

Author: Wendy Knapp Pogozelski, Dept of Chemistry, SUNY Geneseo, Geneseo, NY 14454.

Objective: Almost one-third of American children aged 2-11 qualify as obese or overweight, with obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes greatly on the rise in this population. Despite the labeling of the crisis as “epidemic,” funding to study childhood obesity has been limited and restricted to the traditional intervention strategies (to reduce calories, to reduce dietary fat and to exercise more) despite the fact that these efforts have been largely unsuccessful. The time has come for frank assessment of foundational beliefs about a) the causes of obesity in children and b) effective prevention and intervention strategies. This talk will discuss assumptions that are barriers to research and will compare results from traditional calorie-restriction programs with results from programs that have emphasized carbohydrate control and insulin reduction.

Main points: The current generation of children is predicted to be the first to experience a lower life expectancy than that of its parents. Children across the world are experiencing unparalleled rates of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Relatively little formal research has addressed the causes of childhood obesity, perhaps due to an assumption that the problem is already understood. Despite reluctance to use children as subjects in studies that depart from the traditional “eat less and exercise more” philosophies, it has been noted that the current efforts, dietary recommendations, educational programs and mandates of school lunch programs could be characterized as experiments. These experiments, like the numerous interventions based on traditional strategies, have had poor results but it has been very difficult to implement or fund those approaches that focus on carbohydrate control despite demonstrable success in this area. We will examine typical meals given in schools and at home, compare data from various obesity interventions and discuss causes of obesity on a molecular level

Conclusions & recommendations: The crisis warrants policy change. 1) Funding for childhood obesity should be increased. 2) A broader range of methods and principal investigators should be instituted, with greater accountability required of funded investigators. 3) The USDA nutritional recommendations, a “one size fits all” guide for school meal programs should be reevaluated and reformulated to take into account all strategies for obesity prevention and intervention. 4) Education for physicians, dietitians and health care professionals, as well as the general public, should be altered to include an understanding of the most positive results in obesity prevention.

Biography: Wendy Pogozelski, PhD in Chemistry (Johns Hopkins University) is Professor of Chemistry at SUNY Geneseo. Her research has been in radiation effects, DNA damage, and DNA computing. Current efforts are directed toward biochemical-based nutrition education for health professionals, educators and the general public. In addition to developing teaching materials that incorporate nutrition research, Dr. Pogozelski writes and lectures on diabetes and works with local and national organizations to improve nutrition education.

Figure 3. Before and After from James Bailes’s No More Fat Kids

Crisis in nutrition: IV. Vox Populi

Authors: Tom Naughton, Jimmy Moore, Laura Dolson

Objective: Blogs and other social media provide insights into how the public views the current state of nutrition science and the official dietary recommendations. We ask what can be learned from online discussions among people who dispute and distrust the official recommendations.

Main points: A growing share of the population no longer trusts the dietary advice offered by private and government health agencies. They believe the supposed benefits of the low-fat, grain-based diets promoted by those agencies are not based on solid science and that benefits of low-carbohydrate diets have been deliberately squelched. The following is typical of comments the authors (whose websites draw a combined 1.5 million visitors monthly) receive daily:

“The medical and pharmaceutical companies have no interest in us becoming healthy through nutrition. It is in their financial interest to keep us where we are so they can sell us medications.”

Similar distrust of the government’s dietary recommendations has been expressed by doctors and academics. The following comments, left by a physician on one of the authors’ blogs, are not unusual:

“You and Denise Minger should collaborate on a book about the shoddy analysis put out by hacks like the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.”

“Sometimes I wonder if people making these statements even took a basic course in biochemistry and physiology.”

Many patients have given up on their health care professionals and turn to Internet sites for advice they trust. This is particularly true of people with diabetes who find that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet is not helping them control their blood glucose. As one woman wrote about her experience with a diabetes center:

“I was so frustrated, I quit going to the center for check ups.”

The data suggest a serious problem in science-community interactions which needs to be

explored.

Conclusions & recommendations: Our findings document a large number of such cases pointing to the need for public hearings and or conference. The community is not well served by an establishment that refuses to address its critics from within the general population as well as health professionals.

Figure 4. Some comments from the Active Low-Carber Forums (140, 660 members on March 12, 2012).

Biographies:

Tom Naughton is a former writer for a health magazine, a contributor to the Encylopedia Britannica’s Health and Medical Annual, a documentary filmmaker, and popular blogger who specializes in health and nutrition issues.

Jimmy Moore’s top-rated “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb” blog has drawn more than 6 million visitors since 2005. His podcast show, “The Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show with Jimmy Moore” has featured interviews with hundreds of respected doctors and researcher. He has also authored two books.

Laura Dolson, MS is a writer and cancer support provider at Mediconsult.com, and hastaught health and nutrition classes at a junior high charter school in California. Her About.com nutrition website draws hundreds of thousands of visitors monthly.


“Despite the claims of various diet gurus, excess calorie consumption alone and not the amount of protein in an individual’s diet contributes to the accumulation of unwanted fat….” That’s the tendentious and pretty much inaccurate first line of the press release from JAMA on George Bray’s over-feeding study “Effect of Dietary Protein Content on Weight Gain, Energy Expenditure, and Body Composition During Overeating.”  “Amount of protein?”  What’s going here?  It hasn’t really been about protein.  Most of us “diet gurus” have claimed that carbohydrate, not protein, in the diet was the key macronutrient in regulating metabolism, consistent with the basic biochemistry of the glucose-insulin axis, or as Dr. Bray described Gary Taubes’s position in a review of Good Calories, Bad Calories:

“The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis – the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body.”

Reduction in dietary carbohydrate puts increased demands on protein for gluconeogenesis and other processes but the controlling variable is the carbohydrate. The controversy in nutrition has been largely about fat vs carbohydrate.  Should we be on a low-carbohydrate diet or a low-fat diet?

The quotation in the press release says accurately that “Earlier studies in human beings suggested that diets containing either high or low [levels of] protein are less ‘metabolically efficient’ than diets with normal protein levels.”  Accurate, but written as if metabolic efficiency had always been recognized for its importance in weight loss, as if there had not been a dispute over whether the costs of processing protein were important in energy balance, indeed, written as if Bray and coworkers had not maintained that only calories count in weight gain or loss.  The idea of metabolic advantage, that one diet could be more efficient — more weight gained/calorie — has been largely resisted by the nutritional establishment.  Is this slouching toward Metabolic Advantage? (“Who knows not [the Duke] is dead?  Who knows he is?”)

The debate is also about calories.  Should you cut calories or just cut out carbs?  Is it really “excess calorie consumption” and not the effect of excess carbohydrates ? “A calorie is a calorie” or not. Many of the gurus have gone beyond “claiming” to demonstrating that when carbohydrates are low, weight loss is greater than when carbohydrate is high and that the weight loss on a low-carbohydrate diet is primarily in fat stores rather than lean mass.  In head-to-head comparisons, for however long they are compared, low-carbohydrate diets generally out-perform low-fat diets on other parameters as well, glycemic control, the features of atherogenic dyslipidemia. This has been the major challenge to traditional nutrition and the general approach has been to simply ignore this data and dismiss the researchers with innuendo as above.

In some sense, Bray, et al. answered a question that we weren’t asking, but protein is important if more complicated than carbohydrate and fat. So what did the study find? Bray and coworkers compared three diets of 5 %, 15 % and 25 % protein at an excess of calories, that was nominally the same in each group. The study was a random controlled study and was carried out in a metabolic ward so the results are more accurate than the usual diet study that relies on dietary records.  There is something odd about this study, though, in that if you want to say that only calories are the independent variable, you can’t keep calories constant.  What was actually done was to determine the energy requirements for weight maintenance over a run-in period of 2-3 weeks on a maintenance and then an additional 40 % of calories was added.  So although the calories are constant relative to initial energy expenditure, they are not absolutely the same and this is a study of the effect of varying calories while keeping calories constant. The figure below, re-drawn from Figure 6 of the paper comparing intake of absolute energy to protein intake makes you stop and think.

When you have a small number of subjects, a single outlier can bias the results.  If you remove the single highest point (circled in red), the correlation is likely to get much weaker and the normals and low begin to separate.  In other words, the individual variation (the relative efficiency) is sufficient to make it hard to see the effect of variable energy or, perhaps, as the authors themselves set it up, it is energy normalized for baseline that is the key variable.  Then the authors are right (at least by inspection) that the protein intake does not effect the change in body fat but you have only a single value for the energy. In this case, you cannot say “calories alone account for the increase in fat” (Conclusion in Abstract) because you have only a single point.  If you keep constant the variable (carbohydrate) that is most likely to bring out differences, you shouldn’t be surprised in there are no big differences.

Even taking the conclusions at face value, the authors found, as other diet comparison studies have, that weight loss or, in this over-feeding study, weight gain, was not dependent on calories alone: “a calorie is a calorie” not.  It is likely that this was what the study was originally trying to disprove and the results must have been a disappointment.  The way out was that, in this particular case, the differential weight loss showed up in difference in lean mass, rather than in fat mass as has been found in other studies showing variable efficiency.  Since 5 % is very low protein it is probably not surprising that the diet could not provide enough protein for an increase in lean mass this group.

So what are the other diet studies that have found variable efficiency. The reduction in weight found in studies comparing low-carbohydrate diets and low-fat diets not only shows a difference favoring carbohydrate restriction but the improved weight loss is preferentially fat over lean mass. For example, Volek, et al. compared a low fat with a VLCK and the results are as shown below.  In their study, subjects were randomized to one of two hypocaloric diets, a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic (VLCK) diet (carbohydrate <10% of energy) or a low fat (LF) diet and after 8 weeks switched to the other diet. Reported energy was slightly higher during the VLCK but the VLCK group lost more weight and as shown below predominantly in fat, total fat loss, and trunk fat loss for men (despite significantly greater energy intake). The majority of women also responded more favorably to the VLCK diet, especially in terms of trunk fat loss the ratio of trunk fat/total fat was also significantly reduced during the VLCK diet in men and women.  These studies depend on diet recall so are less accurate than the JAMA study but because of the better experimental design, the changes are bigger and with appropriate correction make a less ambiguous case than the JAMA study. The more accurate measurements in the metabolic chamber suggest that individual variation is real and not just due to random error.

So what do we know from Bray, et al.? As described above, there is some ambiguity in what constant energy means. Still, nobody questions that under many conditions, a “calorie is a calorie,” but they actually found that weight gain was different so when metabolic advantage is “claimed” it cannot be dismissed out of hand.  This is different than widely cited studies in the literature that claim macronutrients do not effect weight loss, since if weight gain depends on macronutrient, it is reasonable that weight loss does too.  Similarly, if tissue distribution affects lean mass in this case, then studies where the tissue distribution shows preferential loss of fat can’t be dismissed — again, it is certainly not surprising that a low protein diet will lead to less storage of protein; generally, while it is just as bad a generalization as “a calorie is a calorie,” there is some truth in “you are what you eat.” Also, in the JAMA study, protein was exchanged for fat so a reduction in fat did not have an effect on fat which may or may not be a surprise to many people. Tom Naughton raised a few other questions about Bray, et al. but in the end, the paper reminds me of the joke about the Polish Mafia: they make you an offer you can’t understand.

How to do it.

But  I told George how to do it. A couple of years ago, he and I had a brief correspondence. I made the following proposal. I suggested we could apply for a joint grant and publication to get the answer.  The following is from my email to him in 2008  (I have added some highlights):

 “A modest proposal

 Proponents of carbohydrate-restricted diets (CRD) and critics of such diets cooperate to design a long-term comparison of CRD and low-fat diets.  The groups agree on methods of procedure, make-up of the diets, how compliance will be effected, and what parameters will be measured.

We write the paper first, leaving room for the data, that is, we agree in advance on what the possible outcomes are and what conclusions could be drawn from them.  The final MS can only be edited for language usage. There are no disclaimers, no Monday-morning-quarterbacking, no excuses.

The paper could be submitted while the grant application is being written and would have to be accepted because any objections could be incorporated in the plan.  The grant itself would surely be funded since it incorporates everybody’s specific aims.”

 George hasn’t answered and he obviously has a different approach to the problem but my offer still stands.

In the end, that is what it will take to solve the problem.  Unless we agree on what the question is, how it can be tested and work together to do the experiment, the lipophobes will ignore the low-carbohydrate studies and we will criticize their studies. The real losers, of course, will be the people suffering from obesity and diabetes.  The question everybody always asks me, is why can’t there be a meeting of the minds?  In the current case, why was the JAMA study done?

Why was this study done? 

 Dr Bray discussed the results with news@JAMA via e-mail.

news@JAMA: What are the practical implications of these findings for patients trying to lose weight or for the physicians trying to counsel them?

 Dr Bray: The first practical implication is an old one: calories count. We showed very clearly that the increase in body fat was due to the increased intake of calories and that the amount of protein in the diet did not change it.

 To avoid that slow weight gain that many adults experience in their middle years, people need to watch their weight and increase activity, decrease food intake, or both; changing the diet alone will not do it.”

This sounds like the the same recommendations we’ve had for years.  Writing this, I suddenly realized that, as they say in German: that’s where the dog is buried.  It is about recommendations.  This research is following the recommendations.  It used to be (should be? assume it must be?) that recommendations follow from the research. Now, it’s the other way around.  Committees make recommendations and then research (sometimes by members of the committee) tries to support the recommendations. Something about this bothers me.

The joke in academic circles is that there are three responses to a new idea. First, “This is wrong,” second, “There’s nothing new in this,” and third, the sub-title of this post. Priority in a scientific discovery is fundamental in science, however, and “we thought of this first” is not always that funny.  Getting “scooped” can have serous practical consequences like jeopardizing your grant renewal and, if nothing else, most of us are motivated by a desire to solve the problem and don’t like the feeling that, by analogy, somebody came along and filled in our crossword puzzle.  In dietary carbohydrate, all three of the responses co-exist.  While an army of dietitians is still claiming that people with diabetes need ever more carbohydrate, in the background the low-fat paradigm crumbles and, somewhat along the lines of the predictions in A Future History of Diabetes , the old guard are coming forward to tell us that they have been recommending low-carb all along.

The latest discoverer of the need to reduce dietary carbohydrate is David Jenkins whose recent paper is entitled “Nuts as a Replacement for Carbohydrates in the Diabetic Diet.” [1] The title is crazy enough, following the tradition of getting away from nutrients, that is, well-defined variables, and replacing it with “food,” that is, mixtures of everything. It is, in fact, not really a low carbohydrate study but the experimental design is not the problem.  It is the background and rationale for the study which recognizes the disintegration of the low-fat diet paradigm but, at the same time, fails to cite any of the low-carbohydrate studies that have been instrumental in showing the need to replace carbohydrates in the diabetic diet. Given forty years of studies showing the benefits of low carbohydrate diets and forty years of unrestrained attacks on the method, it will be interesting to see how Jenkins shows that it is actually the nutritional establishment that invented carbohydrate restriction.

Disputes over priority are well known in the history of science. Newton’s frequently quoted statement that he had seen farther than others because he had “stood on the shoulders of giants” has been interpreted by some historians as a sarcastic comment aimed at Robert Hooke  with whom he had, among other things, a dispute over the priority for the inverse square law (force of gravity varies as the inverse of the square of the distance: F = GmM/g2). Hooke was short and suffered from kyphosis and is assumed not to have shoulders you would profitably stand on.

Even Einstein had trouble.  His dispute with the mathematician David Hilbert about priority for the field equations of general relativity (also about gravity) is still going on, a dispute that I prefer to stay out of. Cited by his biographer, Abraham Pais, Einstein had apparently made up the  verb to nostracize (nostrazieren) which he accused Hilbert of doing. (He meant that Hilbert had made Einstein’s idea community knowledge.  Googling the word gives you only “ostracize” and “Cosa Nostra.”)

It is not the priority dispute, per se — the original low carbohydrate diet is usually attributed to William Banting who published the Letter on Corpulence in 1863, although Brillat-Savarin’s 1825 Physiologie du goût  understood the principle. He said that some people were carbophores and admitted to being one himself.  It is not just priority but that the people who are now embracing carbohydrate restriction were previously unrestrained in their attacks on the dietary approach and were adamant in denying the strategy to their patients.

David Jenkins: “Nuts.”

In trying to find an appropriate answer to the recent bit of balderdash by the redoubtable Hope Warshaw, Tom Naughton recounted the story of the Battle of the Bulge of WWII.  Towards the end of the war, Hitler launched a massive winter attack around the city of Bastogne where, at one point, American Forces were surrounded. When the Germans demanded surrender, the American General, Anthony McAuliffe, sent the one-word reply: “Nuts!”  I always thought it was a euphemism and that he actually went “Vice-presidential” as it was called in the last administration, but it turns to have been a common expression with him and he really did write “nuts” which, of course, had to be explained to the German couriers. (There is a “Nuts” Museum in Bastogne commemorating the battle which the Americans won somewhat as described in the movie Patton).

For installation in the Nutritional Nuts Museum and as an example of the current attempts to co-opt carbohydrate restriction, one can hardly beat Jenkins’s recent paper [1].

Richard:…Who knows not that the gentle duke is dead? ….

King Edward: Who knows not he is dead! Who knows he is?

Queen Elizabeth: All-seeing heaven, what a world is this!

— William Shakespeare, Richard III

The trick is to act as if the point you are making is already established. The Abstract of Jenkins study: “Fat intake, especially monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), has been liberalized in diabetic diets to preserve HDL cholesterol and improve glycemic control….” It has? Liberalized by whom?  Although the American Diabetes Association guidelines are traditionally all over the place, few would consider that there is any sense of substantial liberalization on replacing carbohydrate with fat from them or any health agency.

“Replacement of carbohydrate by healthy fat … has been increasingly recognized as a possible therapeutic strategy in the treatment of diabetes [2] as concerns emerge over the impact of refined carbohydrate foods in increasing postprandial glycemia and reducing HDL cholesterol.”  Reference [2] ((1) in the original) actually “emerged” in 2002 and is ambiguous at best: “Carbohydrate and monounsaturated fat together should provide 60–70% of energy intake.” (It is not my style of humor, but the behavioral therapists call this “shoulding on people.”) The paper admits that the evidence “is based on expert consensus”  and contains what might be called the theme song of the American Diabetes Association:

 “Sucrose and sucrose-containing food do not need to be restricted by people with diabetes based on a concern about aggravating hyperglycemia. However, if sucrose is included in the food/meal plan, it should be substituted for other carbohydrate sources or, if added, be adequately covered with insulin or other glucose-lowering medication.” (my italics)

In fact, one emerging piece of evidence is Jenkins 2008 study comparing a diet high in cereal with a low glycemic index diet [3].  The glycemic index is a measure of the actual effect of dietary glucose on blood glucose.  Pioneered by Jenkins and coworkers, a low-GI diet is based on the same rationale as a low-carbohydrate diet, that glycemic and insulin fluctuations pose a metabolic risk but it emphasizes “the type of carbohydrate,” that is, it is a politically correct form of low-carbohydrate diet and as stated in the 2008 study: “We selected a high–cereal fiber diet treatment for its suggested health benefits for the comparison so that the potential value of carbohydrate foods could be emphasized equally for both high–cereal fiber and low–glycemic index interventions.” (my emphasis) The Conclusion of the 24-week study was: “In patients with type 2 diabetes, 6-month treatment with a low–glycemic index diet resulted in moderately lower HbA1c levels compared with a high–cereal fiber diet.”  The figure below shows the results for HbA1c and weight loss and just looking at the figures, the results are certainly modest enough.

By coincidence, on almost the same day, Eric Westman’s group published a study that compared a low glycemic index diet with a true low carbohydrate diet [4].  The studies were comparable in duration and number of subjects and a direct comparison shows the potential of low carbohydrate diets (NOTE: in the figure, the units for the change are those of the individual parameters; an earlier version showed this as % which was an error):

 

Fad_Westman_Jenkins_FigWe thought of this first.

Oddly, neither of these papers are cited in the current study by Jenkins, et al.  In fact, according to the paper, the precedents go way back:

“Recently, there has been renewed interest in reducing carbohydrate content in the diet of diabetic patients. In 1994, on the basis of emerging evidence, the American Diabetes Association first suggested the possibility of exchanging dietary carbohydrate for MUFA in dietary recommendations for type 2 diabetes). Although not all studies have shown beneficial effects of MUFAs in diabetes, general interest has persisted, especially in the context of the Mediterranean diet.”

The ADA discovered low carbohydrate diets ? Did my blogpost see it coming, or what? But wait…

 “low carbohydrate intakes have also been achieved on the Atkins diet by increasing animal fats and proteins. This influential dietary pattern is reflectedin the relatively lower pre-study carbohydrate intakes of ~ 45% in the current study rather than the 50–60% once recommended.

The researchers in this area might not feel that 45 % carbohydrate has much to do with the Atkins diet but, in any case, it appears not to have been “influential” enough to actually get the studies supporting it cited.

Again: “Fat intake, especially monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), has been liberalized…” but “… the exact sources have not been clearly defined. Therefore, we assessed the effect of mixed nut consumption as a source of vegetable fat on serum lipids and HbA1c in type 2 diabetes.”  Therefore? Nuts?  That’s going to clearly define the type of MUFA?  Nuts have all kinds of nutrients.  How do we know that it is the MUFA in the nuts?  In fact, the real question is whether any benefit would not be due to the reduction in carbohydrate regardless of what it were replaced with. So what was the benefit? The figure above shows the effect on hemoglobin A1C. As described by the authors:

 “The full-nut dose reduced HbA1c by two-thirds of the reduction recognized as clinically meaningful by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (.0.3% absolute HbA1c units) in the development of antihyperglycemic drugs…”

 In other words, almost meaningful, and

 “the number of participants who achieved an HbA1c concentration of <7% (19 pre-study participants, down to 13 post-study participants) was significantly greater on the nut treatment than on the muffin treatment (20 pre-study participants, remaining at 20 post-study participants…).”

This is some kind of accomplishment but the figure above shows that, in fact, the results were pretty poor.  The statistics do show that the “full nut dose” was significantly different from the half-nut dose or the muffin.  But is this what you want to know?  After all, nobody has an average change in HbA1c.  What most of us want to know is the betting odds. If I down all those nuts, what’s the chance that I’ll get better.  How many of the people in the full-nut study did better than those in the half-nut study (did the authors not know that this would sound funny?).  You can’t tell for sure because this information is buried in the statistics but the overlap of the error bars, highlighted in pink, suggests that not everybody gained anything — in fact, some may have gotten worse.

What kind of benefit is possible in a dietary intervention for people with diabetes?  Well, the studies discussed above from Jenkins himself and from Westman show that, with a low-GI diet, it is possible to obtain an average reduction of about 4 %, more than ten times greater than with nuts and with a real low-carbohydrate diet much greater.  I have added an inset to the Figure from Jenkins with data from a 2005 study by Yancy, et al. [5].  The red line shows the progress of the mean in Yancy’s studied.  If you had diabetes, would you opt for this approach or go for the full-nut dose?

Bibliography

1. Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Banach MS, Srichaikul K, Vidgen E, Mitchell S, Parker T, Nishi S, Bashyam B, de Souza R et al: Nuts as a replacement for carbohydrates in the diabetic diet. Diabetes Care 2011, 34(8):1706-1711.

2. Franz MJ, Bantle JP, Beebe CA, Brunzell JD, Chiasson JL, Garg A, Holzmeister LA, Hoogwerf B, Mayer-Davis E, Mooradian AD et al: Evidence-based nutrition principles and recommendations for the treatment and prevention of diabetes and related complications. Diabetes Care 2002, 25(1):148-198.

3. Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, McKeown-Eyssen G, Josse RG, Silverberg J, Booth GL, Vidgen E, Josse AR, Nguyen TH, Corrigan S et al: Effect of a low-glycemic index or a high-cereal fiber diet on type 2 diabetes: a randomized trial. JAMA 2008, 300(23):2742-2753.

4. Westman EC, Yancy WS, Mavropoulos JC, Marquart M, McDuffie JR: The Effect of a Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet Versus a Low-Glycemic Index Diet on Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2008, 5(36).

5. Yancy WS, Jr., Foy M, Chalecki AM, Vernon MC, Westman EC: A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2005, 2:34.

I thought that, for a change of pace, I would take a Mediterranean perspective.  The Mediterranean Diet is widely considered as an ideal diet since it is not explicitly low-fat (most of the time) while still allowing people to avoid saying low-carbohydrate which is not fashionable in many circles.  At the end of this post, however, I have included a couple of recipes from Judy Barnes Baker’s new cookbook, Nourished; a Cookbook for Health, Weight Loss, and Metabolic Balance.  For general health, Mediterranean diets have the advantage that nobody is really sure what they are and hence there are no long term trials of the type that makes low-fat diets look so bad, as in the Women’s Health Initiative.

Tournedos Rossini

Start with Giochino Rossini.  It is generally known that his life as a composer included significant time for food. He retired at a relatively early age and devoted the rest of his life to cooking and eating. (William Tell was his last opera). Rossini said that he had only cried twice as an adult. The first time was when he heard Paganini play the violin and the second, when a truffled turkey fell in the water at a boating party.

 

Because his later life was more or less in seclusion, there is some confusion about his gastronomic experiences.  It is not even clear whether Tournedos Rossini was made for him or by him.  In fact it is not even clear where the name Tournedos comes from.  Derived from tourner en dos, turning to the back, it may refer to the method of cooking or possibly that somebody had to turn their back during the preparation so as not to let anyone see the secret of the final sauce.  The recipe, although simple in outline, has expensive ingredients and the final sauce will determine the quality of the chef. It simply involves frying a steak and then putting a slab of pate de foie gras with truffles on top. The sauce is based on a beef reduction. More at Global Gourmet.

  1. Sauté the 4 center-cut filets mignons, chain muscle removed, 6 ounces in the 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) clarified butter or vegetable oil on both sides until rare.
  2. Remove excess fat with with paper towel and place on heated plates.
  3. Place warm pate de foie gras slices on each tournedo.
  4. Cover with Périgueux Sauce:

Bring 1-1/2 cups (375 milliliters) of demi-glace to slow simmer. Add 5 tablespoons (75 milliliters) of truffle essence and 2 ounces (50 grams) of either chopped or sliced truffles. Off heat and cover with tight-fitting lid, allow truffles to infuse into the sauce for at least 15 minutes. (The sauce using truffles sliced into shapes rather than pieces is called Périgourdine).

5. Finish with a little truffle butter.

Lardo di Colonnata

Not really a make-at-home item, this traditional creation from Tuscany captures the care in processing  that makes Italian food famous.  The original curing method supposedly goes back to the year 1000, and has been handed down from generation to generation.  The lard, of course, comes from pigs that have not undergone the genetic transformation that American pigs have.  In any case, you will need marble tubs which you should keep in the basement assuming that there are no caves in your neighborhood.  You rub the tubs with garlic and then layer the pork lard and cover with brine, add sea salt and spices and herbs. You continue with additional layers until the tub is full and then cover with a wooden lid. Curing time is about 6 to 10 months.

Greek Barbecue

As described on one of the Greek food sites “anyone visiting Greece would wonder exactly what is meant by the Mediterranean diet for while those of us outside the Med have been eating more whole grains, extra virgin olive oil and fresh vegetables…. as the Greeks become more affluent they eat more meat.” I haven’t been in Greece for many years but I remember quite a bit of meat then. Of course, affluence is a sometime thing but the trend, as in other countries, is for festive holiday foods to be increasingly available all year round.  The most popular food for Easter is whole lamb roasted on a spit  The recipe is simple, if not convenient for the small family “You will need 1 whole lamb, skinned and gutted…”  Seasoning can be simple salt and pepper or basted with ladolemono, mixture of lemon juice, olive oil and oregano.

As the site points out, Lamb on the spit “is especially popular [at Easter] because it follows 40 days of fasting for lent and people are definitely ready for some meat, though not everyone fasts the entire forty days.” This reminds me of little known angle on the Seven Countries study.

Ancel Keys auf Naxos

The idea of a Mediterranean diet derives, in some way, from Ancel Keys’s Seven Countries study. He discovered that the two countries with the highest consumption of fat, had the lowest incidence of cardiovascular disease (Crete) and the highest (Finland), and he attributed this to the type of fat, olive oil for Crete and animal fat for Finland.  It was later pointed out that there were large differences in CVD between different areas of Finland that had the same diet.  This information was ignored by Keys who was also a pioneer in this approach to conflicting data.  Another of the rarely cited responses to the Seven Countries study was a letter written by Katerina Sarri and Anthony Kafatos of the University of Crete and published in the journal Public Health Nutrition: 8(6), 666 (2005):

“In the December 2004 issue of your journal…Geoffrey Cannon referred to … the fact that Keys and his colleagues seemed to have ignored the possibility that Greek Orthodox Christian fasting practices could have influenced the dietary habits of male Cretans in the 1960s. For this reason, we had a personal communication with Professor Christos Aravanis, who was responsible for carrying out and following up the Seven Countries Study in Greece. Professor Aravanis confirmed that, in the 1960s, 60% of the study participants were fasting during the 40 days of Lent, and strictly followed all fasting periods of the church according to the Greek Orthodox Church dietary doctrines. These mainly prescribe the periodic abstention from meat, fish, dairy products, eggs and cheese, as well as abstention from olive oil consumption on certain Wednesdays and Fridays….”

“this was not noted in the study, and no attempt was made to differentiate between fasters and non-fasters. In our view this was a remarkable and troublesome omission.”

Kokoretsi.

Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

— James Joyce, Ulysses.

Along with Greek Barbecue, it is traditional at Easter to serve kokoretsi which is  made from the internal organs of the lamb. Liver, spleen, heart, glands are threaded onto skewers along with  the fatty membrane from the lamb intestines. When the skewer is full, the lamb intestines are wrapped around the whole creation. It is then barbecued over low heat for about 3-5 hours.

 

One of the regrettable aspects of the decline in food quality in the United States is the general disappearance of organ meats although the Paleo movement may help with this.  Organ meats were once very popular; the quotation above is probably the second most widely quoted passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Because of various ethnic influences, they were probably more popular in New York than in America (which begins somewhere in New Jersey).  I found Jimmy Moore’s confrontation with beef tongue  quite remarkable in that (in its corned form (like corned beef)), tongue was once a staple of my diet.  When I was in grade school, there were many weeks where I would bring tongue sandwiches on Silvercup bread for lunch every day.  Silvercup, made in Queens was the New York version of Wonder Bread. The Silvercup sign is still a fixture of the New York landscape — it is now the site of Silvercup Studios, the major film and television production company that kept the name (and the sign) when the Bakery folded and the studio bought the building in 1983. (You name the TV show, it was probably produced at Silvercup).

Of course, everybody draws the line somewhere. Although I used to eat with my friends at Puglia, the Little Italy restaurant that specialized in whole sheep’s head, I passed on this delicacy mostly because of the eyeballs.  Also, although you gotta’ love the euphemism Rocky Mountain Oysters, bull testicles don’t do it for me, at least if I know for sure in advance. (I don’t really mind, in retrospect, if the folk-myths about the tacos outside the bullring in Mexico City were really true).

Etymology of Food Words

Whether it is the steak or the cook whose back is turned in Tournedos, it is generally difficult to find the etymology of food words, although some are obvious. The conversion of Welsh Rabbit to Welsh Rarebit is surely an attempt to be more politically correct and avoid Welsh profiling.  One disagreement that I remember from way back when I was in college is now settled. There used to be many ideas about the origin of the word pumpernickel.  One of my favorites at the time was that Napoleon had said that it was “pain pour Nicole” (his horse). Great but not true, it is now agreed that it comes from the German, pampern, to fart and Nickel meaning goblin, along the lines of Saint Nick for Santa Claus.  So pumpernickel means Devil’s Fart presumably due to the effect of the unprocessed grain that gives it its earthy quality.  Which reminds me of the ADA’s take on fiber that I quoted in an earlier post: “it is important that you increase your fiber intake gradually, to prevent stomach irritation, and that you increase your intake of water and other liquids, to prevent constipation.”  foods with fiber “have a wealth of nutrition, containing many important vitamins and minerals.” In fact, fiber “may contain nutrients that haven’t even been discovered yet!” (their exclamation point).

In Brooklyn, the Mediterranean diet means Italian sausage, largely from Southern Italy.  I had always assumed that Soppresata (pronounced, as in Naples, without the final vowel) was so-called because it was super-saturated with fat, but I have been unable to confirm this; since first writing this post, Italian friends have suggested that it comes from Sop-pressata, that is “pressed on,” but this is also unconfirmed.  There are many varieties but supposedly the best is from Calabria.  For something like this, with so many varieties which each cook is sure is the best, there is no exact recipe, but you can get started with this from About.com Italian Food.

 6.6 pounds (3 k) of pork meat — a combination of loin and other lean cuts

1 pound (500 g) lard (a block of fat)

1 pound (500 g) pork side, the cut used to make bacon

Salt, pepper

Cloves, garlic and herbs (rosemary, lemon peel, parsley etc

1/2 cup grappa (I think you could also use brandy if you want)

The basic ideas is to remove all the gristle, and chop it with the lard and the pork side. About.com recommends a meat grinder but I suspect that the knife blade of a food processor is better.  Then, wash the casing well in vinegar, dry it thoroughly, and rub with a mixture of well ground salt and pepper. “Shake away the excess, fill the casing, pressing down so as to expel all air, close the casing, and tie the salami with string. Hang for 2-3 days in a warm place, and then for a couple of months in a cool, dry, drafty spot and the sopressata is ready.”

At exactly what moment these simple, natural ingredients turn into processed red meat is unknown.

Simple Mediterranean

I’ve included two recipes from Judy Barnes Baker’s new book, Nourished; a Cookbook for Health, Weight Loss, and Metabolic Balance.  Currently in press, publication will be announced on her website.  For very simple Mediterranean, she suggested the following from the The Silver Spoon. Translated from  Il cucchiaio d’argento, published in 1950 by Editoriale Domas, the back cover describes it as “the bible of authentic Italian cooking and Italy’s best-selling cookbook for the last fifty years.”

Eggs En Cocotte with Bacon Fat

Serves 4

4 small slices bacon fat

4 tablespoons heavy cream

4 eggs

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

 Preheat the oven to 350º, if you wish to bake the eggs. Parboil the bacon fat in boiling water for about 1 minute, then drain. Put 1 tablespoon cream and a slice of bacon fat in each of four ramekins, break an egg into each and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Place the ramekins in a roasting pan, add boiling water to come about halfway up the sides and bake for 6-8 minutes or until the egg whites are lightly set. Alternatively, place the roasting pan over low heat for 6-8 minutes. The combination of bacon fat and cream—a strong savory taste and a milder flavor—gives the eggs a very delicate flavor.

Recipes from: Nourished; a Cookbook for Health, Weight Loss, and Metabolic Balance  (Judy Barnes Baker is the author although I and others are mistakenly listed by Amazon as co-authors).

Καλή όρεξη

Doctor:  Therein the patient must minister to himself.

Macbeth: Throw physic [medicine] to the dogs; I’ll none of it.

— William Shakespeare, Macbeth

The epidemic of diabetes, if it can be contained at all, will probably fall to the efforts of the collective voice of patients and individual dedicated physicians. The complete abdication of responsibility by the American Diabetes Association (sugar is okay if you “cover it with insulin”) and by other agencies and individual experts, and the media’s need to keep market share with each day’s meaningless new epidemiologic breakthrough leaves the problem of explanation of the disease and its treatment in the hands of  individuals.

Jeff O’Connell’s recently published Sugar Nation  provides the most compelling introduction to what diabetes really means to a patient, and the latest edition of Dr. Bernstein’s encyclopedic Diabetes Solution  is the state-of-the art treatment from the patient-turned-physician.  Although the nutritional establishment has been able to resist these individual efforts — the ADA wouldn’t even accept ads for Dr. Bernstein’s book in the early editions — practicing physicians are primarily interested in their patients and may not know or care what the expert nutritional panels say.  You can send your diabetes story to Michael Turchiano (MTurchiano.PVP@gmail.com)  and Jimmy Moore (livinlowcarbman@charter.net) at The Patient’s Voice Project.

The Patient’s Voice Project

The Patient’s Voice Project, which began soliciting input on Friday, is a research study whose results will be presented at the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) conference on Quest for Research Excellence, March 15-16 in Washington, D.C. The conference was originally scheduled for the end of August but there was a conflict with Hurricane Irene.

The Patients Voice Project is an outgrowth of the scheduled talk “Vox Populi,” the text for which is at the end of this post.  A major stimulus was also our previous study on the Active Low-Carber Forums, an online support group. The March conference will present a session on “Crisis in Nutrition” that will include the results of the Patient’s Voice Project.

Official Notice from the Scientific Coordinator, Michael Turchiano

The Patient’s Voice Project is an effort to collect first hand accounts of the experience of people with diabetes (type 1 and type 2) with different diets.  If you are a person with diabetes and would be willing to share your experiences with diet as a therapy for diabetes, please send information to Michael Turchiano (MTurchiano.PVP@gmail.com) and a copy to Jimmy Moore (livinlowcarbman@charter.net). Please include details of your diets and duration and whether you are willing to be cited by name in any publication.

It is important to point out that, whereas we think that the benefits of carbohydrate restriction have been greatly under-appreciated and under-recommended, the goal is to find out about people’s experiences:both benefits and limitations of different diets. If you have not had good success with low-carbohydrate diets, it is equally important to share these experiences.

  • Indicate if you saw a physician or other health provider, what their attitudes were and whether you would be willing to share medical records.
  • We are particularly interested in people who have switched diets and had different outcomes.
  • Include any relevant laboratory or medical results that you think are relevant but we are primarily interested in your personal reactions to different diets and interaction with physicians and other health providers.
  • Finally, please indicate what factors influenced your choices (physician or nutritionist recommendations, information on popular diets(?) or scientific publications).

Thanks for your help.  The Patient’s Voice Project will analyze and publish conclusions in popular and scientific journals.

The Survey of the Active Low-Carber Forums

The Active Low-Carber Forums (ALCF) is an on-line support group that was started in 2000.  At the time of our survey (2006), it had 86,000 members and currently has more than 130,000.  Our original survey asked members of the forum to complete a 27-item questionnaire and to provide a narrative on any other health issues.  Some of the narrative answers included in the published paper were as follows:

“I no longer have diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, joint pain, back pain and loss of energy.”

“I started low carbing for diabetes. My 3 month blood sugar was 8.9 when diagnosed. It is now 5.4. My doctor is thrilled with my diabetes control and as a side benefit, I lost all that weight!”

 “I’m controlling my diabetes without meds or injecting insulin (with an a1c below 5), my lipid profile has improved, I’ve lost weight, I’ve gained both strength and endurance, and I’ve been able to discontinue one of my blood pressure meds.”

 “I have much more energy, fewer colds or other health problems. I was able to go completely off oral diabetes medication.”

The survey covered a number of topics.  We found that most respondents had the perception that they ate less food than before their low-carb diet, and most felt that the major change in their diet was a large increase in the consumption of green vegetables and a corresponding large decrease in fruit intake.

Physicians Attitudes in the ALCF survey

The Patient’s Voice Project is likely to tell us as much about physicians, or at least their interaction with patients, as about the patients themselves. We found in the ACLF survey that slightly more than half of the people who responded said that they had consulted a physician. We were surprised that about 55 % said that the physician or other health professional was supportive of their diet. Another 30 % or so fit the category of “did not have an opinion but was encouraging after seeing results.” Only 6 % of responders indicated that “they were discouraging even after I showed good results,” which may be a surprising result depending on your feeling about the rationality of doctors vs hostility to the Atkins diet.  Perusal of patients’ opinions on diabetes websites, however, suggests that the story on people with diabetes will not be as encouraging. 

The Survey on Sources of Information

Given the contentious nature of the debate on diet in diabetes therapy, it is not surprising that a  group following a low-carb strategy would  not put much stock in official sources. The table below shows the breakdown on sources of information from the ALCF survey.  Of the half of respondents who said that they relied on original scientific publications, 20 % felt they had generally inadequate access (important articles were not accessible) whereas 61 % felt that access was adequate and were able to see most articles that they wanted.

Voices of Dissatisfaction.

Posts on the ALCLF itself reinforced the idea that official recommendations were not only a limited source of information but that many were perceived as misleading. Typical posts cited in the paper:

“The ‘health experts’ are telling kids and parents the wrong foods to eat. Until we start beating the ‘health experts’ the kids won’t get any better. If health care costs are soaring and type 2 diabetes and its complications, as are most of these expenses why are we not putting a ‘sin’ tax on high glycemic foods to cut consumption and help pay for these cost? Beat the ‘health experts’ – not the kids!”

 While I am not a fan of sin taxes, the dissatisfaction is clear, and…

 “Until I researched it three years ago – I thought the most important thing was low fat. So I was eating the hell out of low fat products and my health continued to get worse.”

Similarly, the recent article in Diabetes Health by Hope Warshaw  http://bit.ly/mYm2O3 with its bizarre recommendation for people with diabetes to increase their carbohydrate intake elicited a number of statements of dissatisfaction:

“Respectfully, this column is not helpful to diabetics and probably dangerous. I am going on 6 years of eating 30-35 carbs/day. My A1c has been in the “non-diabetic” range ever since I went this route and I feel better than I have in years. I am not an exception among the many folks I know who live a good life on restricted carb diets.”

“…carbohydrates are a very dangerous and should be consumed with caution and knowledge. i had awful lipids and blood sugar control on a low fat/high carb diet. now that i have switched to a lower carb diet – all my numbers are superb. and the diet is easy to follow and very satisfying!”

 Summary:

The Project is intended to bring out the patient’s perspective on diet as therapy in diabetes.  The goals are to document people’s experience in finding the right diet. In particular, we are interested in whether switching to a low-carbohydrate diet provided improvement over the recommended diet typical of the ADA. Or not.  We are looking for a narrative that can bring out how people make decisions on choosing a diet and sticking with it: the influences of physicians, the media and personal experimentation. Your diabetes story.

Text of Abstract for the Original ORI Conference

 Crisis in Nutrition: IV. Vox Populi

 Authors: Tom Naughton, Jimmy Moore, Laura Dolson

Objective: Blogs and other social media provide insights into how a growing share of the population views the current state of nutrition science and the official dietary recommendations. We ask what can be learned from online discussions among people who dispute and distrust the official recommendations.

Main points: A growing share of the population no longer trusts the dietary advice offered by private and government health agencies. They believe the supposed benefits of the low-fat, grain-based diets promoted by those agencies are not based on solid science and that benefits of low-carbohydrate diets have been deliberately squelched. The following is typical of comments the authors (whose websites draw a combined 1.5 million visitors monthly) receive daily:

 “The medical and pharmaceutical companies have no interest in us becoming healthy through nutrition. It is in their financial interest to keep us where we are so they can sell us medications.”

 Similar distrust of the government’s dietary recommendations has been expressed by doctors and academics. The following comments, left by a physician on one of the authors’ blogs, are not unusual:

 “You and Denise Minger should collaborate on a book about the shoddy analysis put out by hacks like the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.”

“Sometimes I wonder if people making these statements even took a basic course in biochemistry and physiology.”

 Many patients have given up on their health care professionals and turn to Internet sites for advice they trust. This is particularly true of diabetics who find that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet is not helping them control their blood glucose. As one woman wrote about her experience with a diabetes center:

 “I was so frustrated, I quit going to the center for check ups.”

The data suggest a serious problem in science-community interactions which needs to be explored.

Conclusions & recommendations: Our findings document a large number of such cases pointing to the need for public hearings and or conference. The community is not well served by an establishment that refuses to address its critics from within the general population as well as health professionals.