Tag Archives: research

Sugar coated research

Image from shutterstock

Image from shutterstock

A friend recently sent me this article from the NY Times: “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat“. The article details how researchers recently found documents showing that (more than 50 years ago) sugar industry executives paid and provided articles to scientists. The scientists were “encouraged” to write review articles highlighting fat as the main culprit in heart disease and downplay the role of sugar. Many believe this is why for decades fat was the focus of so much media attention, and that only now is sugar getting it’s day in the lime light as a bad guy in heart disease.

I highly encourage you to read the article and form your opinions, as always. Here are my thoughts.

1) I think the scientists industry leaders acted unethically IF things played out exactly as this article details. Scientists are allowed to receive funding from industry groups. However, this funding needs to be disclosed. Also, scientists have a duty in their research to present the whole picture, especially in a review article. Now, this happened before today’s current ethics rules were in place. But I don’t know that that entirely excuses the behavior. Again, I say IF this article is not skewing what really happened to make a better story.

2) While the review article in question likely did influence scientific and public opinion, researchers were already focusing on fat as a culprit in heart disease. If we could go back in time and take away the review article, fat still may have emerged as the prominent bad guy in nutrition world.

3) While the behavior was unethical, the American public is still somewhat to blame. We are the ones who turned to refined sugars and highly processed carbs. We could have turned to protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, etc. We as a people are looking for an easy solution. Fat is bad? Ok. I’ll just avoid that. There is not ONE bad nutrient. Good nutrition is a balance. We always seem to forget that, then blame science for telling us the wrong thing.

4) This highlights the importance of not only looking at the funding behind research but thinking about how we fund research. Scientists take money from private industries because research takes money and that is a good source of it. If we as a people want good, unbiased research, we need to help come up with the money to fund it. End of story.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article, sugar vs fat, and research funding. Please leave thoughts in the comments. And I’m always happy to respond to your questions or articles you send me! Just email me at: kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com.

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The Science behind Nutrition Advice

People often express frustration at nutrition recommendations since they seem to change over the years. Many years ago, butter was “bad”, so everyone switched to margarine. Then with information about trans fats, people thought margarine was bad. Low fat diets were all the rage, then low carb. Why is it so confusing to determine what foods are good for us?

I read an interesting article recently (here) about the problems with trying to do nutrition research. It highlights many aspects. I think the overall reason is that our diets are so complex. The article mentioned historical studies, such as when it was discovered that oranges and lemons (high in vitamin C) prevented scurvy. This study was done on sailors who consumed a very limited diet. We have so many more foods available today, it is hard to isolate the effects of any one single food or food group.

The diversity in our diet is generally a good thing, so we don’t want to take that away. Having a greater variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and even meats/proteins is excellent, especially across the year.

So can you trust any nutrition research? Yes. How do you know what to believe? Here are my tips:

1) Is it promoting a single food or very narrow food group? Then I would say maybe be skeptical. No one food is going to be a “super food” that will literally change your health. Broad categories such as leafy vegetables, berries, etc, are the types of groups we are looking for.

2) How many studies or people did it look at? A single study is only worth so much. There are “studies” published that combine the results of lots of individual studies. These often show less drastic effects, but are more reliable.

3) Does it make sense? For example, the recent announcement saying a diet high in bacon and red meats increases risk of cancer doesn’t come as a huge shock. We know those are not the best choices to make everyday in our diet. Compare that to a (fictitious) study saying eating half a head of cabbage everyday reduces risk of diabetes by 50%. Why on earth would cabbage (specifically) do that? Who would eat that anyway?

Positive skepticism is the way to approach most scientific research. All of it is testing theories. We just need to sift through to find what makes sense to us.

Happy eating!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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Are you eating too much “highly” processed food?

Find a processed food

 

Which of the foods in the picture is a processed food?  TRICK QUESTION!! All of them are.  I’ve posted before about how we need to be more specific in defining the term “processed food”.  Almost everything we eat is processed.  Some of that processing is good, since it makes food safer to eat, such as pasteurizing milk or cooking meat.  Or making wheat into flour into bread can be a good kind of processing, depending on what is done to preserve nutritional quality.

I read about an interesting study that looked at purchases of processed foods (for an abstract of the actual study, click here).  The authors used data from more than 100,000 Americans who barcode scan their grocery purchases.  They categorized the foods purchased into varying degrees of processing – minimally, basic, moderately, and highly processed.  Unfortunately, more than 60% of purchases in the study were shown to be highly processed foods.  Also discouraging, when looking at the nutritional impact of these purchases, most of these foods were high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.

Clearly, we have some work to do as Americans.  We should skip that frozen lasagna and instead buy some noodles, canned tomatoes, and low-fat mozzarella cheese on our own.  Then we can control the salt and fat levels in our foods.  We should eat less convenience and ready-to-eat foods.  Cooking doesn’t have to take a long time, as shown by many of the recipes on this site – BELT sandwich, Black Beans and Rice, Cauliflower Quesadillas, Polenta with Sausage Ragu, Tilapia with Tomatoes and Green Beans, and many more.

One limitation to the study is that the data is limited to foods that have a barcode.  Most fresh produce doesn’t have a barcode.  So the proportion of purchases going to fresh produce isn’t accounted for.  This could mean that our diets aren’t so bad.  But the take home message remains that we should decrease the level of processing in the foods that we buy.

Happy eating!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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Fructose vs glucose

There is always somebody talking about how bad high fructose corn syrup is these days. As a general rule, I haven’t taken a very strong opinion about high fructose corn syrup. It’s a form of sugar, which we should only eat in moderation. And many of the foods with large amounts of high fructose corn syrup are not really considered a health food, such as regular soda.

However, I read about an interesting study comparing the effects of eating fructose compared with glucose on the brain. In this study, they looked at blood flow to the brain after participants consumed fructose or glucose and were then shown pictures of high calorie foods. Participants were also offered either a high-calorie food right now or money later after the brain images were taken. When eating fructose compared to glucose, the participants had greater responses in their brains to the pictures of foods and were more likely to choose food over money, which could indicate hunger.

Take away? Fructose isn’t as satisfying as glucose. However, we don’t eat straight glucose or fructose in our daily life. Regular sugar is 50/50 fructose and glucose. High fructose corn syrup can contain up to 55% fructose, so not a huge difference.

Bottom line, taking in extra sugars in any form is just extra calories. If there is extra fructose, you may be more hungry afterwards than if it contained regular sugar. Keeping all sweets in check is the way to go.

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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