by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Diet-and-dieting

Mar 19 2014

Is saturated fat a problem? Food for debate.

What is a poor eater to do?

The latest meta-analysis of the effects of saturated fat on heart disease finds—none.

This study, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine (doi: 10.7326/M13-1788), examined the results of

  • 32 observational studies involving 530 525 participants
  • 17 observational studies involving 25 721 participants
  • 27 randomized controlled trials involving 103 052 participants

The result?

Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats. 

This meta-analysis follows an editorial in a Mayo Clinic publication (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.11.006) by authors who argue that saturated fat is not the problem.  Carbohydrates (e.g., sugars) are the problem.  The authors argue:

  • Effects of saturated fat on blood cholesterol are weak and transient.
  • Meta-analyses have found a lack of an association between heart disease mortality and saturated fat intake.
  • Stroke studies find that patients with stroke had eaten less saturated fat.
  • Long-term studies find that people with the highest dairy consumption have the lowest mortality risk, and also low diabetes and heart disease.
  • Dietary trials find trivial or no benefit at all from decreasing saturated fat and/or increasing intake of polyunsaturated fat.

On this basis, they say that advice to reduce intake of saturated fat is irrational.

The New York Times asked several experts for comment on the meta-analysis, among them Dr. Frank Hu of Harvard:

The single macronutrient approach is outdated…I think future dietary guidelines will put more and more emphasis on real food rather than giving an absolute upper limit or cutoff point for certain macronutrients…people should try to eat foods that are typical of the Mediterranean diet, like nuts, fish, avocado, high-fiber grains and olive oil.

Dr. Hu was referring to a large clinical trial (not included in the meta-analysis), which concluded that a diet with more nuts and extra virgin olive oil reduced heart attacks and strokes when compared with a lower fat diet with more starches.

The Times story contained a reminder that the American Heart Association issued dietary guidelines last year to “restrict saturated fat to as little as 5 percent of their daily calories, or roughly two tablespoons of butter or two ounces of Cheddar cheese for the typical person eating about 2,000 calories a day.”

How to make sense of this?

I vote with Frank Hu that dietary advice should focus on food, not nutrients.

Focusing on one or another nutrient—fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, or sugar—takes foods out of their caloric as well as dietary context.

My guess: If you balance food intake with physical activity and are not overeating, the specific proportion of fat, carbohydrate, and protein won’t matter nearly as much.

While the arguments about fat v. sugar go on and on:  Eat your veggies, vary the foods you eat, don’t gorge, and enjoy what you eat.

Jun 17 2013

Mini book review: Foodist

I’m on the road this week and getting caught up on reading.  I”m not usually interested in diet books but this one is more about healthy eating than losing weight.

Darya Pino Rose.  Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting.  HarperOne, 2013.

I first heard of Darya Pino Rose in connection with her guide to getting through supermarkets.  She’s a neurobiologist who confesses to chronic dieting.  Once she figured out the science, she figured the rest  would be easy.

Focusing on real food instead of those specialty, highly processed diet foods is the secret to making healthy food enjoyable.  My recipe for how to make cauliflower taste as good as french fries (p. 237) has convinced hundreds of skeptics that vegetables aren’t just palatable, but can be insanely delicious.

Her advice for handling restaurants and friends and family is eminently sensible and worth trying for those who have trouble with such things (and who does not?).

May 25 2012

Memorial Day Weekend reading: food biography

A couple of books, just in.  Happy reading!

Kurlansky, Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, Doubleday, 2012.

Kurlansky is the author of several distinguished books, notably Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, and Salt: A World History.  Here, he takes up the story of Clarence Birdseye, the man who invented and gave his name to frozen vegetables.  Anything that Kurlansky writes is worth reading, and Birdseye—an multitasking explorer, trapper, and inventor—is worth writing about.  The book is illustrated with Birdseye’s patent drawings.

Thomas McNamee, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance, Free Press, 2012.

I thought McNamee’s previous biography, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, was a great read, wonderfully gossipy and entertaining.   Like so many others, I learned to cook from Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook.  In 1980, I met Claiborne while doing a segment of an Over Easy program on San Francisco’s public television station, KQED.   Claiborne has recently had some health problems, had been told to eat better and lose some weight, and had just published Craig Claiborne’s Gourmet Diet with Pierre Franey (with an introduction to principles of healthy eating by Jane Brody).  He cooked lemon chicken.  I commented on how healthy it was.  Claiborne was a fascinating character and McNamee’s account makes me wish I’d been part of the New York food scene back then.

May 18 2012

Weekend reading: food as an art

Sandor Ellix Katz, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World, Chelsea Green, 2012.

This is a big book—498 pages—packed full of anything you’d want to know about fermented foods, not only as something healthful we seem to have evolved with, but also as something delicious to eat and drink.  Think: cheese, yogurt, sourdough, beer, kimchi, and soy sauce, but also such exotica as kombucha candy or cod liver oil.  The book’s coverage is international, the directions explicit (equipment, gear, troubleshooting), and the design beautiful.  Michael Pollan’s introduction says he found it inspirational.  Me too.

Peter Kaminsky, Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well), Knopf, 2012.

I blurbed this one:

Kaminsky’s rules for taking pounds off and keeping them off are based on a really good idea: Flavor per Calorie.  That works for him and should make dieting a pleasure.

You can eat well and healthfully and everywhere if you apply your inborn Culinary Intelligence.  Kaminsky says the CI story can be summarized in ten words: Buy the best ingredients you can afford.  Cook them well.

Can’t beat that.

Seamus Mullen, Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better, Andrews McNeel, 2012.

I don’t usually blurb cookbooks, but it wasn’t hard to talk me into doing this one.

Take a look at what Seamus Mullen does with vegetables, fruit, grains and everything else he cooks.  I can’t wait to try his 10 Things to Do with Corn.  His food can’t guarantee health, but it will surely make anyone happy.

This gorgeous book proves without a doubt the point I’ve been making for years: healthy food is delicious!

Mullen cooks Spanish food at Tertulia, Manhattan.  The food is delicious (but bring ear plugs!).

Apr 24 2012

Nutritionist’s Notebook: Starting a healthy lifestyle early

On Tuesdays, I answer questions about nutrition in NYU’s student newspaper, the Washington Square News.  Today’s is about youthful immortality.

Question: Many students have expressed that, being so young, they can eat whatever they want and stay thin. What kind of implications does the type of food we eat have on our body weight? If a student is thin but eats bad foods, are there still detrimental effects? Additionally, at what age does what you eat tend to have the biggest effect on you?
Answer: It’s not only youth that keeps college students trim. It’s the lifestyle: running to classes, late nights studying or partying, irregular meals, eating on the run. Once students get past the hurdle of the “freshman 15″ — the weight gain that comes from unlimited access to meal plans — most do not gain weight in college.

It’s what happens afterward that counts. Even the most interesting jobs can require long hours in front of a computer or chained to a desk. Eating out of boredom becomes routine and, once middle age hits, it’s all over. The metabolic rate drops with age, and you can’t eat the same way you used to without putting on pounds.

The college years are a great time to start behaving in ways that will promote lifetime health. If you smoke cigarettes, stop while you can. Don’t binge drink. Practice safe sex.

As for diet, eat your veggies. Whenever you can, eat real foods, shop at farmers’ markets and learn to cook. Cooking is a skill that will bring you — and your family and friends — great pleasure throughout life. If you cook, you will always have the most delicious and healthiest of diets at your fingertips.

You don’t know how? Try an Internet search for “free cooking lessons online.” Mark Bittman’s Minimalist videos, for example, make things simple with results that can be spectacular.

Do the best you can to eat well now, and think of it as easy life insurance.

Apr 17 2012

Do We Need Better Advice About Eating Well? I Vote Yes.

The New York Times asked me, among others, to contribute to its  Room for Debate blog on the question of whether anyone could possibly need to hear one more word about what constitutes a healthful diet.  Here’s my two-cents’ worth:

Better Information and Better Options

Of course Americans need more information about eating well. Otherwise we wouldn’t have an obesity problem. In my daily teaching and contact with the public, I hear endless confusion about what to eat.

People are bombarded with conflicting advice, much of it from sources with a vested interest in selling particular foods, supplements or diet plans. Nutrition studies tend to focus on single nutrients, making their results difficult to apply to real diets. No wonder people have a hard time knowing what or whom to believe.

This is too bad, really. The basic principles of healthy eating could not be easier to understand: eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, balance calorie intake with expenditure, and don’t eat too much junk food.

If such principles seem hard to follow, it is surely because of how they affect the food industry. Balancing calorie intake often means eating less, but doing so is bad for business. Food companies must do everything they can to sell more food, not less.

So they make foods available everywhere — even in drug, book and clothing stores — and in very large portions. Few people can resist eating tasty food when it’s right in front of them. Large portions alone explain rising rates of obesity: they encourage people to eat more calories but to underestimate what they have eaten.

Healthy eating requires a food environment that makes it easier for everyone to make better choices. It also requires a food system that makes it cheaper to buy fruits and vegetables than less healthful foods, so everyone can afford to eat healthfully. Fix the farm bill!

Jan 31 2012

Want to lose weight? Eat less.

A new diet study just out from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition went to a lot of trouble to prove the obvious.  When it comes to weight loss, how much you eat matters more than the proportion of fat, carbohydrate, and protein in your foods.

Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center got volunteers to eat diets that were supposed to differ in proportions of fat (40% vs 20%), carbohydrates (35% vs. 65%), and protein (25% vs. 15%).

The results of the study are consistent with the findings from many previous studies:

  • The major predictor for weight loss was adherence to the diet.
  • People on all of the diets lost weight by six months, but regained some of it by two years.
  • The study had a high drop-out rate (hence the importance of adherence).
  • It was hard for people to stick to the diets, especially those at the extremes of one dietary component or another.

In my book with Malden Nesheim coming out on April 1, Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics, we review the previous studies of whether what you eat matters more to weight loss than how much you eat.

Some people find it easier to stick to diets that are higher in protein and fat.  I’m guessing that proponents of low-carbohydrate diets will argue that none of the diets in this particular study was really low in carbohydrate.

But studies show that people have a hard time adhering to diets that are very low in carbohydrate.  The low range in this study—35%—is at the lower end of acceptability for many people.

The bottom line: all diets work if you stick to them.

Jan 6 2012

US News rates the diets

While everyone is arguing about the effect of high and low protein diets on weight gain, US News has come out with another one of its rankings, this time on diets.

The committee of experts advising US News ranked diets basically on the basis of ease of use, taste, flexibility, and effectiveness. They advised against diets that are too restrictive, require or eliminate certain foods, or are otherwise difficult to follow.

They ranked Weight Watchers #1 as the best weight-loss diet:

Dieters can eat whatever they want as long as they don’t exceed their allotted daily points. No foods are forbidden, occasional treats are encouraged, and the plan emphasizes all-you-can-eat fresh fruits and veggies. Experts liked the optional weekly meetings, since support is crucial to compliance. They also applauded Weight Watchers for being realistic, flexible, and filling. It scored more than a full star above the average in this category and was crowned the easiest diet to follow.

Weight-loss diets must do two things: restrict calories, and provide balanced nutrient intake.  As we explain in Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics (publication date April 1), this boils down to “eat less” and “eat better.”

Diets have to allow you to eat foods you love (in moderation, of course).

Food is a great source of pleasure and many of us live to eat.  Not being able to eat the way we used to is one of the great tragedies of getting older.  Alas!

To the extent that any diet plan helps you eat less, eat better, and enjoy what you are eating, it ought to work.

 

 

 

 

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