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True or False – Carbohydrates make you fat

Posted on February 25, 2013


Over the past ten to fifteen years there has been a sharp increase in the number of high protein, low carbohydrate diets being marketed.  I believe one of the reasons so many people explore these types of diets is the mistaken belief that carbohydrates make you fat.  Carbohydrates are a macronutrient; macronutrients are nutrients we need in larger quantities to help provide energy to cells for normal growth and development.  Protein and fats are also macronutrients.  Carbohydrates are a very important energy source for our bodies.  In fact, many medical and exercise science researchers believe that carbohydrates are the preferred energy source for the brain, and also are important for supplying the energy needs of muscles and other organs in the body.  Various organizations recommend that you consume somewhere between 45 and 65% of your daily calories from carbohydrates.  So, roughly speaking, it is recommended that the average person consumer more than half of their daily calories in carbohydrates.  If your daily caloric intake is about 2,000 calories that would mean you would want to consume roughly 250 grams of carbohydrates per day.  One study published in the journal Obesity Research (1996) showed that subjects who ate a carbohydrate rich, low fat diet lost more weight and fat mass than controls that did not change their diets.  I find it hard to believe that nutritional experts would recommend we consumer over half our calories in carbohydrates, if carbohydrates in fact made us fat. Additionally, it is often recommended that we consume more complex carbohydrates (whole grain pasta, vegetables) instead of simple carbohydrates (sugars).  Now eating too many carbohydrates certainly does have the potential to add extra pounds to your body, just like eating too many fats or proteins.  It really comes down to the total number of calories you consume.

Siggaard R, Raben A, Astrup A: Weight loss during 12 week’s ad libitum carbohydrate-rich diet in overweight and normal-weight subjects at a Danish work site.  Obesity Research (1996), Vol 4, pps. 347-356.

True or False – Ulcers are caused by stress

Posted on February 18, 2013


Many of us have a stereotype in our minds of the classic ulcer sufferer.  We can picture them- overworked in a high-pressure job, overstressed both at work and at home as well.  Incessantly worried, they are bombarded at every side from kids, bosses, clients- the world.  They eat antacids like candy and look permanently perplexed as their troubles seem to multiply.  If they could just relax and unwind, de-clutter and de-stress their lives, maybe take a stress management course, then the pain in their abdomens would subside, right?  As it turns out, that may not be right.  In the not-so-distant past, this was the advice given ulcer patients by their physicians.  Medical knowledge up until about the early 1980’s suggested that a decrease in blood flow to the stomach during times of anxiety weakened the stomach wall, making it vulnerable to harsh stomach acids.  While stress is still thought to create an environment that is conducive to ulcers, it is no longer considered to be the primary culprit. 

In the early 1980’s Dr. Robin Warren, a researcher, made a startling discovery.   While conducting biopsies of ulcer patients, he found a bacterium which was later named Helicobacter pylori.  Warren and his colleague, Dr. Barry Marshall believed that this bacterium, rather than stress, was responsible for the ulcers.  Because their claim was such a divergence from conventional belief, it was met with much resistance and skepticism.  Unable to convince his peers, Dr. Marshall set out to prove the theory in a radical way.  He actually drank the H. Pylori bacteria.   Days afterward, he became pale and lethargic and had, indeed, developed an ulcer.  Ulcer research thereafter was focused on these bacteria.  According to his article in the Journal of Gastroenterology, James Freston (2000) reports that “Helicobacter pylori infection is recognized throughout the world as the most common cause of both duodenal and gastric ulcers.”

Freston J: Helicobacter pylori-negative peptic ulcers: frequency and implications for management. Journal of Gastroenterology (2000), Vol 35, pp. 29-32.

True or False – Drinking tea has many health benefits?

Posted on February 11, 2013


Millions of people enjoy drinking tea, the second most consumed beverage on the planet.  Until recently I had always been a heavy coffee drinker, but I had not given tea a try.  Then one evening when I had a sore throat a friend recommended I try some throat-coat tea.  I don’t remember exactly what type of tea it was, but it worked and I was hooked.  I still drink 2 or 3 cups of coffee in the morning, but instead of continuing to drink coffee when I get to work, I now drink tea.  I really love the variety of teas on the market.  I’m more of a fruity / flavored tea drinker, the two flavors I have in my office right now are “Wild Berry Zinger” and “Pomegranate Pizzazz”.  I spent some time on the internet investigating whether there is health benefits associated with drinking tea and found hundreds of proposed benefits.  Supposedly, tea helps with hydration, irritability, headaches, memory, cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, digestion, metabolism, immunity, the flu, cavities, arthritis, Parkinson’s and even bad breath!  I then looked for something more scientific on the topic and found an article by Gupta and colleagues (2008) on the beneficial effects of tea published in the International Journal of Pharmacology.  These authors sited over 200 references in their paper and discussed how tea has beneficial effects on cancer, skin health, cardiovascular disease, weight loss and even our nerves.   The authors stated that “Research conducted in recent years reveals that both black and green tea have very similar beneficial attributes in lowering the risk of many human diseases, including several types of cancer and heart disease.”  There are few if any downsides to drinking tea, some tea does contain caffeine, so be careful if you react negatively to caffeine.  So, if you currently don’t drink tea, starting to would likely be a simple way to improve your health.

Gupta J, Siddique Y, Beg T, Ara G, Afzal M: A review on the beneficial effect of tea polyphenols on human health.  International Journal of Pharmacology (2008), Vol 4, pps. 314-338.

True or False – Organic food is more nutritious than non-organic food

Posted on February 5, 2013


A few hours before I wrote this section of the book I was in our family’s garden picking raspberries with my 11 year old son.  We ended up picking almost two pints worth and probably ate a pint between us as we worked.  Following the raspberry harvest we drifted over to the peas and simply smiled at each other as we crunched away, consuming pod and all.  Growing healthy food is a topic I am very interested in and rarely if ever do we use chemicals in our garden.  I guess I would consider myself an organic gardener.  The organic food industry is one that is grown tremendously over the past 5 to 10 years and probably will approach the 50 billion dollar mark this year.  Organic farms have traditionally been small scale operations, however, as the interest in organic increases, so does the size of the farms.  Generally speaking, organically grown foods are grown without using things like pesticides and herbicides (for plant products) or hormones (for animal products) and some say that organic growing processes have less of a negative impact on the environment. 

Many people believe that organically grown food is nutritionally superior to conventionally grown food, but research really doesn’t support that.  Dangour and colleagues (2009) published a review article in which they identified 162 articles on organic farming.  They then determined that 55 were of satisfactory quality to include in their review.  These authors stated that “One broad conclusion to draw from this review is that there is no evidence to support the selection of organically produced foodstuffs over conventionally produced foodstuffs to increase the intake of specific nutrients or nutritionally relevant substances.”  There may be many good reasons to grow or purchase organic food; however, to do so because of the belief that they contain more nutrients doesn’t appear to be one of them.

Dangour A, Dodhia S, Hayter A, Allen E, Lock K, Uauy R: Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2009), Vol 90, pps. 680-685.