Thursday, February 09, 2006

Let's have another cup of coffee, let's have another piece of pie

Come on, sing along with neo-neocon:

Just around the corner,
There's a rainbow in the sky,
So let's have another cup of coffee,
And let's have another piece of pie.

Trouble's like a bubble,
And the clouds will soon roll by,
So let's have another cup of coffee,
And let's have another piece of pie

Why? Well, according to a long-term study of low-fat diets, (via the New York Times; via Austin Bay), they don't help.

At least, they didn't help half of a group of 49,000 women between the ages of 50-79, who for an eight-year period reduced their fat intake from an average of 35-37% of their diet to an average of 24-29%.

Those in the diet/health business aren't sure what the results mean. They criticize it for not testing a large enough reduction in fat, or for not intervening long enough, or for not targeting the fat content by type of fat. And it is true that, like most studies of the sort, this one can be criticized on many grounds. But it is also true that it was large enough and long enough to have shown more effects than it did.

Actually, there was a modest decrease in the incidence of breast cancer, a change that didn't approach the statistically significant level. But that's about it, and it could well have happened through chance alone--that's why we test for statistical significance.

The results are news. But it's not news that one day we are told by doctors to do one thing, and then the next day it reverses (as Dr. Sanity points out, Woody Allen--back when he was still funny, long long ago--made a good joke about that in "Sleeper.") I have been heartened by the dictum in recent years that eating certain kinds of nuts is good; likewise that the cholesterol in shrimp and other seafood doesn't matter at all. And every now and then I am so bold as to eat an egg.

But I have also found that, for myself, certain foods just make me feel lousy, and I've come to respect that and to generally avoid them. Oh, they don't make me feel lousy while I'm eating them--au contraire! It's afterwards that I pay.

Sugar, for one. It just doesn't seem to agree with me, and I feel better when I cut it out, although that's not easy. High salt foods are another.

But for me, the worst of it is that a few years ago I started having regular migraines. By "regular," I mean very often. They weren't usually of the variety where I had to take to my bed in a darkened room (although sometimes they were; it was unpredictable). But they made me miserable nevertheless.

It turned out that there were a couple of food triggers for the migraines, but the worst one by far was chocolate. Chocolate!! Even a little bit was enough to start the headache up (often preceded by those lovely flashing zigzag light shows), sometimes within just a couple of hours.

It was hard to accept that I couldn't eat chocolate any more. Until that point I'd no idea how much I liked it--or just how often, when I chose a special dessert in restaurant, it would be a chocolate one. After a subsequent difficult but rewarding year of no chocolate--and very few headaches--I decided, at Christmas time, to give myself a treat. I went to a Godiva store and bought a box. After all, if I was going to indulge, why not have some of the good stuff?

I don't remember the exact quantity I ate that evening, but it was certainly significantly less than a pound, but more than a piece or two. I was prepared to have a headache the next day, but I'd factored that in already. And indeed, I did have a headache the next day.

And the next day. And the next day. In fact, I had a headache that lasted two weeks, from that one evening of indulgence.

That was a few years ago, and it was my last chocolate fling. Now, when I look at the stuff, it doesn't tempt me in the same way. But I musn't get arrogant: it's one day at a time.


At 2:30 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger Joan said...

I wonder if you could take a prophylactic dose of say, Excedrin (aspirin + Tylenol + caffeine) before eating chocolate, if it would ward off the headaches?

I know it's good for us when we finally figure out how to manage our bodies, but I'm still annoyed that I can't have so many of things I really used to enjoy (a glass of wine, a plate of sushi, chicken wings...)

At 3:04 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

It's a good thing my body keeps a natural biological balance in relation to stuff I take in.

I'll gobble down chocolate as much as the last 300 pound guy can, but after a set limit I stop.

If I don't stop, the chocolate will taste like chalk. Then my stomach will be acting like it was starving and in need of real food. If that doesn't make me stop, and if I still keep eating, I'm pretty sure I would feel nauseaus after a few minutes.

These are the natural barriers that keeps me from eating stuff I shouldn't, in the proportions that are beyond normal for me.

I tend to reinforce them as well, cause usually there is no real good reason to over-eat or drink for me, unless I'm at a all you can eat and I don't want to waste any money, that is.

Chocholate has some very stimulating active ingredients. For me, it tends to act as if like adrenaline. And sometimes this causes intense itching on my back, like creepy crawlers were all over me. Or Chinese acupuncture pins were sticking in my back all the time, random wise.

I found that after I realized what my body was telling me, I could eat what I needed, and let my body worry about the bad, the good, and the too good.

It helps that my metabolism is dynamic, in the sense that I don't get hunger cravings unless I exercise and do things. This tends to cut down on overeating and clogging up the arteries. Cause boy, hunger gets to become the best sauce, and it is isn't sweets for me at all.

One of my friends has a thyroid problem, and so keeping his weight down and his metabolish high is a problem for him. Given from what I know, your body naturally regulates your metabolism and your hunger. If you pay attention to it, that is. A bit of Eastern Wisdom, true, but just as useful in the West.

At 3:13 PM, February 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps there's a connection between political opinions and chocolate: did your change of mind come at the same time as your change of diet?

(That's a joke BTW)

| politics

At 4:02 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

I was prepared to have a headache the next day, but I'd factored that in already. And indeed, I did have a headache the next day. Sure that's not the placebo effect?

At 4:22 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger chuck said...

And every now and then I am so bold as to eat an egg

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat an egg?

At 5:12 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

chuck: At least they haven't declared peaches off-limits!

anonymous: No, my change predated my giving up chocolate (although, now that you mention it, the changing probably accelerated when I quit the chocolate. Hmmm; food for thought).

letmespellitoutforyou: If the headache had lasted a day, I might agree with you. But I certainly didn't expect a two-weeker!

At 5:13 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

joan: I thought wine and sushi were supposed to be good for you. Is there something I don't know?

At 7:04 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger Judith said...

There is still enough evidence that the low-carb diet works, if you are sensible about it. That doesn't mean NO carbs, but relatively low carbs and good carbs (whole grains) rather than sugar. It also doesn't mean the unhealthy kinds of fats.

When you stress your muscles by lifting a greater weight than they are used to, it breaks down some muscle fiber and the muscle is stimulated to rebuild it stronger than before. It goes looking for fuel. It will use carbs before it will use fat. Carbs are ready energy (which is why athletes eat lots of them) and fat is stored energy (for famines, starvation, etc.). Your body is only going to use fat if it can't find carbs. If you don't give your muscles lots of carbs, especially before exercising, it uses the stored fat and you lose fat and gain lean muscle mass. Muscle is denser than the equivalent fat so you may not lose that much weight overall but you become thinner.

You will also get fat eating lots of fat (even "good" fat) and no carbs, but your body handles fat differently from carbs (I get fuzzy on the details here) so a low-carb diet with the right exercise will make you leaner than a low-fat diet with the right exercise.

I have heard differing opinions on whether aerobic exercise works as well as lifting weights, but the goal is to rev up your metabolism on an ongoing basis, like giving another push on a wheel when it starts to slow down.

At 7:18 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

If you don't give your muscles lots of carbs, especially before exercising, it uses the stored fat and you lose fat and gain lean muscle mass.

I've never tried to purposefully do free weights, calisthenics like pull ups/push ups, while low on glycogen/carbs.

The times I did do that, unintended wise, was pretty terrible. You feel like something is dragging you down, and you have basically no energy. I don't even think the adrenaline and endorphines even fire, which kind of takes the kick away.

Kind of dangerous given certain lifts. Light lifting only probably on low carbs, if they even want to try that, or using nautilus machines.

I don't think you have to lift free weights to burn fat through rebuilding muscle mass. I just think any regular exercise would do that, once the body was accused to using fats instead of carbs. The 9 calorie per gram instead of the 4-5 cal per gram. Regular walking, running, pacing.

Older people probably don't lift free weight, on an Adkins Diet. So I wouldn't know exactly how they would break down and rebuild their muscle structure.

I don't know why someone would stop eating sushi, it has a lot of anti-oxidants which are really good for the human body. The Japanese have lived by it, and their cancer are pretty low.

That seaweed, vitamin rich stuff, is really concentrated naturally. Some of that stuff doesn't taste too bad either.

I think the fat from milk doesn't do anything for me. I basically drink about 3 gallons a week, if there is no orange juice, and I don't gain a pound.

So that's the fat that doesn't seem to be "harmful" so to speak.

I am unsure, but whenever I get some of my muscle groups sore and it's in the morning, my hunger (metabolism) gets kicked up sky high when before I might have hardly been eating anything. Best way to get hunger isn't to run 10 miles for me, best way is to do enough push ups and pull ups that your forearm, triceps, and shoulder muscles are afire. ooo, then food starts looking good.

At 9:53 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger Ron said...

Woo Hoo! Pie and Coffee at Neo's! I'm so there!

Cherry or Apple for moi, Neo, mercy beaucoup!

At 9:56 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

Exercise is bad for your health. Go to any emergency room. It will be filled with people who have been doing athletic, healthy things.

At 10:11 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger James Becker said...

Hi Neo,

The study on fat isn't really that hard to understand. Its kind of a good story though, in my opinion:

There are three types of fats

1) Marginarine, Veg Shortening, Non-dairy creamer (ie coolwhip). These are now collectively referred to as "trans-fats".

2) Saturated fats, usually of animal origin.

3) Unsaturated fats - including the important sub-group of essential fats.

Group 1 is bad for you. You might think of them more as "toxins" than as fat - as they don't really exist in nature.

Group 2 probably doesn't matter much - within reasonable limits.

Group 3 are good for you in reasonable amounts. The essential fat group is like a vitamin. If you don't get enough (a large part of the population probably doesn't), you'll get symptoms of deficiency, which could lead to problems.

Cholesterol intake is probably irrelevant.

If you want an expert's confirmation of all this, you can check out Walter Willet who runs the Harvard School of Public Health:

Here is a background story of how we got here:

In the early 1950's scientists did a study of saturated fat intake (group 2) vs. trans fat intake (group 1) - though they didn't call it that at the time.

The results showed that the trans-fat intake group had lower total cholesterol than the meat and dairy (saturated fat) e group. From this, they concluded that saturated fat was bad. Margarine and shortening were prescribed over butter and lard for the next 40 years - at least, causing untold suffering for some and bypass income for others.

As summarized by Dr Willet in the above article, we now know what happened. Trans fats lowers HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and raises LDL (the bad kind).
Saturated fat increases both HDL and LDL - having very little affect on heart attack risk. But since total cholesterol is just the sum of the two (plus VLDL), the higher risk group had the lower total cholesterol. HDL and LDL couldn't be measured at the time.

If you want all of the gory details, including the relevant chemistry, you can check out "Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill":


At 10:40 PM, February 09, 2006, Blogger Solomon2 said...

Peaches are just about the only food that doesn't go with milk chocolate.

At 1:10 AM, February 10, 2006, Anonymous ilana said...

Hi neo-neo, just wondered if you'd tried carob-based chocolate substitute and if so, does it have the same effect?

At 6:22 AM, February 10, 2006, Blogger T J Olson said...

It's silly for you to only dare to eat an egg!

Didn't you know that today's eggs have been enginerred and cultivated to be much lower in cholesterol than they were 30 years agoe!?!

Seems the health-Nazi's have misled you into thinking that several eggs a week - or even one every day - were bad for you. Wrong!

(Environmental science grad student)

At 8:14 AM, February 10, 2006, Blogger still realizing said...

So it's probably total calories that count the most.

Exercise helps you lose weight not mainly through the calories you burn during the exercise but through the calories you burn at rest after the exercise. So if it's a choice of eating carbs before or after your workout -- then do whichever is more comfortable for doing the best workout.

Understanding how to lose weight is much much easier than actually losing it. I'm an expert but I'm overweight.

At 9:42 AM, February 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, this thread really drew out all the disciples of Saint Atkins, Saint Swampy, and the whole nutriscience priesthood.

I remember, during the Carter Administration, when saturated fats were bad and the "miracle of science" trans-fats were good. That's not even mentioning all the Egg Crusades.

I remember my health teacher in college first trying to convince us trans-fats were bad, because they are solid at room temperature, and, "when they reach room temperature in your blood stream, they turn solid again and clog your arteries."

I remarked that if someone's blood stream is at room temperature, they should be more concerned with rigor mortis than clogged arteries.

I didn't do well in that class...

At 10:01 AM, February 10, 2006, Blogger Goesh said...

- eggs fry so wonderfully in clarified butter

At 10:24 AM, February 10, 2006, Blogger ExPreacherMan said...

Chocolate -- Headaches?

A year ago I had severe headaches daily... weekly and monthly... Had brain scan (They found one).. Blood tests, etc, etc..
Finally as I was eating one of my Lady Wife's every day, delicious, homemade, double rich chocolate pie (handfuls of semi-sweet choc-chips, flaky lard based crust smothered with puffy cream on top... Uh Oh!

Yep, it was the chocolate.. No more (tears) choc pie.. no more headaches..


At 1:16 PM, February 10, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Those headaches have got to be because of some hormone imbalances. If it was the caffeine, then everytime you drink 10 cups of coffee, you would wake up crazed.

Anyone that ever bought into the line that "scientifically produced fats" like trans-fat were "good for you" needs to get their logic, reason, and common sense circuits rechecked at circuit city.

On basic principles, the human body is designed to take in natural and wholly organic products. If you bake up some artifice sugars and eat them by the gallon load, well then, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that this might not be liked by the body.

The body, as opposed to the spirit and the mind, tends to function independently like a pet. It'll tell you what it needs, when it needs it, and will read your emotions and intentions and try to fit its systems to your purposes.

For example, if a person doesn't eat much and doesn't exercise or do anything much, then the body thinks it is in a winter hibernation period, and shuts off the basal metabolism. So your caloric burn rate per day goes from 2,200 to maybe 1,100. If a person suddenly gets depressed during this period and eats gallon loads of calories and sweats, then the body is going to put those calories into fat, to stave off the winter hungers.

Same applies if a person intentionally starves himself, and then goes off the diet. If the body sees you starving, it's going to go into hibernation mode and start storing fats over burning carbs, favoring long range survival over short term burst speed. If a person goes off that diet, and starts eating, the body now has learned from You, that it needs even more fat deposits if it is to survive the next "starvation" period. It would be funny, to watch, sort of like teaching a dog to shit in the house instead out of outside, when you want to housebreak him. If it wasn't so important to a person's health.

It was always common knowledge that regular diets didn't work for people, but I was never satisfied over other people's answers, and so I sought to formulate my own given data sources.

There is a hidden tendency to just take something that works automatically, like elevators, cars, microwaves, electricity, etc, and just use it instead of understanding its fundamental principles, behavior, and purpose. This applies to a person's own body as much as it applies to our technologically savy culture.

Except if a software goes buggy on us, we don't tend to lose our lives as we might if the body starts failing, and we don't know how to correct the problem.

The more we depend upon something, like electricity, the less people seem to know how it works. SO it tends to make a certain kind of sense, that the thing we depend upon the most( under brain), the human body, is one of the more particular cases of ignorance.

At 5:04 PM, February 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anyone that ever bought into the line that "scientifically produced fats" like trans-fat were "good for you" needs to get their logic, reason, and common sense circuits rechecked at circuit city."

Like I said, this was during the Carter Administration. When trans-fats, 55 mph speed limits, and the metric system were going to save the world from The Population Bomb and Peak Oil. Common sense really wasn't very common, and in the field of nutriscience, it still isn't.

Of course, I don't buy into the "natural foods are good" shtick, either. Fugu is natural too, but I sure as hell ain't touching it if I have any choice.

At 1:50 AM, February 12, 2006, Blogger Joan said...

Neo: sorry for the late response. Wine and sushi are both fine in general. I just have a problem metabolizing alcohol since I had my gallbladder out a few years ago. Sushi is a little more complicated; if I have a lot of soy, I get a hung-over, exhausted feeling. I love sushi, but not without loads of wasabi'd soy sauce, so I have to strictly limit myself or I'll be messed up for a few days. It's just me.

I'm a low carber also, but eat tons of vegetables and chocolate, too. I'm not trying to lose weight, I'm trying to avoid becoming diabetic. I find it tremendously helpful that my doctor ordered me to stick with it. She told me directly that if I ate a typical American diet, I would become diabetic.

The bottom line is to eat real foods, all types, in moderation. Avoid stuff concocted in labs (hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup) and you'll be OK.

At 2:53 PM, February 12, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Fugu is natural too,

There's two types of definitons for natural foods. One, is natural substances the human body needs to fight and think at peak efficiency, that can be found and eaten.

Second def, is anything that can be grown in the "natural world".

They aren't the same thing, when I say natural foods for mankind I don't mean whatever you find growing in your backyard or a cocaine plot or a marijuana field.

But simply what allows humans to live longer, exercise and heal injuries faster, think faster, and perform better.

They exist, and they are ALL natural ingredients.

Bio-sciences have not developed to the point where truly, they can make artificial substances that increase people's life spans. With the advent of nano-tech and stem cells, that might change in the next 20 years perhaps.

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