heart disease

Hot Off the Skillet Food Links

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Whoa. I meant to do a post on interesting food links monthly, but a quick scroll reveals I haven't done a Hot Off the Skillet since early January. There's always exciting news in the food and nutrition world, beginning with this link I saw today! Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found a daily cup of tea may reduce heart attack and cardiovascular risk? Beginning in 2000, they followed 6000 study participants, who were free of heart disease at that time. Eleven years later, it was the tea drinkers who showed 1/3 fewer incidences of "heart attack, stroke, chest pain, or...other types of heart disease." Yay, Earl Grey!

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In other happy news, you'll remember I wrote about my favorite food/nutrition book of 2015, Mark Shatzker's The Dorito Effect. Because I also follow him on Twitter, I heard about his recent Epicurious article, holding out the promise of better-tasting real food in the future. As he discussed in the book, for years folks bred supermarket food for looks and speed and durability, letting actual flavor go by the wayside. Hence the baseball-hard tomatoes that taste like drywall and grocery-store chicken with all the flavor of tofu, only with a texture even more revolting. But, joy of joys, flavor is making a comeback, and not just the flavors found in a chemistry lab. Agricultural think tanks are working on breeding flavor back in--the old-fashioned way, by crossing plant varieties and hoping for good results.

Like heirloom tomatoes, but wish they were sturdier? Now's your chance to get tomato seeds for Garden Gem and Garden Treasure, two new varieties which are already winning taste contests! For a small donation to the University of Florida's Klee Laboratories you'll receive 15 seeds of each kind, just in time to get them started indoors.

And lastly, as we find ourselves in a strident political season, I always like to show bipartisanship. Having referenced the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen produce lists in the past, I now present the other side, in which our supermarket produce is found to be very, very clean, according to USDA pesticide sampling, as reported in Forbes. The author makes a couple good points, including the fact that pesticide residue can be found in both conventional and organic produce (some organic countermeasures are allowed but act similarly to regular pesticides). I would love to believe our fruits and vegetables more than meet the EPA's tolerances. What is a tolerance? "The tolerance is generally 100 times less than a dose that could cause any ill effect. The allowed residues are also lower than the levels of natural pesticidal compounds that many crops make to defend themselves." (As Mark Schatzker also discussed in his awesome book, plants do produce natural toxins so they don't get eaten or eaten at the wrong time by every Bird, Cow, or Billy Goat Gruff.)

Tolerable produce still doesn't address the issue of agricultural workers who are exposed to higher levels of pesticides, however, in producing the crop. Nor does it dispel that niggling memory I have of the potato farmer in Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, who farmed conventional potatoes for all of us, but only fed his family from the small organic plot behind the house... But, hey, it's still good news for when we can't resist that out-of-season basket of berries. Berries below tolerance!

May it hold us until Opening Market Day.

 

 

Bring on the Butter, Meat, and Cheese!

Is it just me, or does every new study and food book offer conflicting advice? I'm not happy to hear that we should limit fat and eat lots of whole grains and vegetables; but nor am I thrilled to hear saturated animal fats are back on the menu and carbs are the new bad guys. Can't I love both? Can't we all get along???

This week I took on Nina Teicholtz's The Big Fat Surprise.

Like Gary Taubes' WHY WE GET FAT, Teicholtz takes on some 50 years of dietary advice from the government, academy, food-, and health-powers-that-be. You know the drill: reduce saturated fat in the diet. The higher your heart attack risk, the more drastically you should reduce it. That means cutting out red meat, eggs, milk, cheese--and voila! You'll lower your LDL and live long enough to die of cancer instead.

Teicholtz traces the ascendancy of this advice and the effects of personal biases, statistical hand-waving, and academic infighting on the conclusions drawn or suppressed. She looks in depth at the original studies done and cited, rather than taking the abstract's or another person's word for it, with surprising results. As it happens, rates of heart disease have not declined, despite a 17% increase in American consumption of fruits and vegetables, a 29% increase in grains, and a reduction of fats to 33% of calories. In place of animal fats we now consume 8% of calories by way of vegetables oils (mainly soy and canola), and, in the meantime, obesity, diabetes, and cancer rates have boomed. What went wrong?

A few things:
- We found "lowering cholesterol" was not the cure-all we hoped for. Lowfat diets (and statin drugs) can lower LDL, but it turns out general LDL levels do not correlate closely with heart disease. Having high, small-particle LDL levels does seem to correlate, but the best way to sway the balance to big, floaty LDL particles is to eat animal fats.

- The "Mediterranean Diet" was somewhat an arbitrary invention, but a diet favoring olive oil does seem to improve health factors better than a lowfat diet, although not as well as a diet rich in animal fats.

- At first animal fats were replaced in processed/fast foods with trans fats, but when these started to be frowned upon, everyone switched back to liquid vegetable oils, which oxidize and put out toxic aldehydes when they are heated.

- Calcium and vitamins A, D, K, and E are fat-soluble, meaning they cannot be fully absorbed if not accompanied by fat. That goes for the calcium in nonfat milk and all the spiffy vegetables sprinkled in fat-free dressing.

- Women and children were recommended to follow lowfat diets by extension, but it turns out women with low cholesterol had higher mortality rates that women with high cholesterol, and women on lowfat diets see a greater drop in their good HDL levels than men. Kids need saturated fat for ideal growth.

- When not replacing trans fats with liquid oils, food processors have to rely on fat replacers, which are additional carbohydrate substances.

- Liquid vegetable oils are pro-inflammatory and tied to increased rates of cancer.

...There's more to say, but I'll stop here. Suffice to say, I found the arguments convincing, if depressing, given my deep love for bread and pasta. My kids have been drinking whole milk for years now, and I am determined to wean us at least two days a week from breakfast cereals, but I just don't know how the world can support everyone on a diet high in animal fats. Not to mention, meat is expensive, especially since we do grass-fed. I suppose I'll have to settle for increasing our ratio of animal fats and reducing our refined carbs and liquid vegetable oil.

 At least I can fry in butter and bacon fat without a twinge of guilt now, but I guess this means my homemade pot stickers fried in vegetable oil literally are to die for!