Saturated fat…here is part three, where we will discuss the research on the topic.

Recap

In part one I discussed the problems with relying on science in general. Some people like accepting the “scientific consensus” on something because it seems safe to go along with majority opinion. The problem with this strategy is that you don’t end up doing the research yourself. When you do, you may find something the majority did not. Also, the conventional point of view regarding all public health related matters is not always based on evidence. We could debate that all day.

In part two I described the idea of food synergy, and why this is a missing link in nutrition science research.

In this final segment I will share what the actual research shows regarding saturated fat intake and cholesterol intake on your health. In addition, I will show you how to find this research easily.

What is the research question?

We will shortly go to pubmed to search for studies on saturated fat and cholesterol consumption. Before we go to pubmed, let’s first clarify our research question. The research question I am answering in this post is “what is the effect of saturated fat and cholesterol intake on cardiovascular disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality?” This is a specific question. “Is saturated fat bad for you” is NOT a specific question. In the research world you need specific questions for a few reasons.

For one, a specific question is easier to study and the results are easier to draw a conclusion from. If we were to design a research study to answer if saturated fat was good for you in general we would probably be answering a lot of other specific questions. We could assess if it’s good for your health, which leads to more specific questions about health. But we could also ask if it makes you feel good to eat it, which is an entirely different question. If we didn’t ask specific questions, and say just designed a survey that asked people if they thought saturated fat was good for you, and they could answer in an open ended way, our data would be quite jumbled and not as meaningful to interpret.

The effect of saturated fat, if any, on cardiovascular disease outcomes and all-cause mortality asks two different questions. The first question is looking at saturated fat and cardiovascular disease outcomes. We could define those outcomes as total heart attacks, deaths from heart attacks, number of strokes, deaths from stroke, and diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.

The second question asks if there is a relationship between saturated fat intake and all-cause mortality. All-cause mortality means death from any cause. Smoking, being sedentary, and eating a standard American diet (high sugar, high amount of processed foods, low antioxidant intake) increases your chances of dying in general from any cause. Generally, unhealthy things make you die sooner, so that is the idea this question is getting at.

Death from a specific cause or any cause is arguably the most important outcome from a medical standpoint. I personally care about all the things leading to death (because we may be living somewhat longer in modern times but it’s questionable if we are healthier), but getting wrapped up in the details sometimes isn’t very fruitful. Drugs for example may reduce risk factors for a disease but make you die sooner from that disease through some unknown mechanism or from some other disease, making the drug pointless.

The other research question is the same, but we will replace saturated fat with cholesterol to get this: “what is the effect of cholesterol intake on cardiovascular disease and all cause mortality?”

What is cardiovascular disease…

The next point I want to make before discussing the research is that cardiovascular disease is sometimes interchanged with heart disease and neither are a single entity. There are a multitude of afflictions affecting the heart, including coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral artery disease (PAD), ischemic heart disease (IHD), angina pectoris, stroke, arteriosclerosis, hypertension, cardiomyopathies, aortic aneurysm, congestive heart failure, and valvular disorders. Many of them may involve atherosclerosis (plaque build up inside arteries, impeding blood flow). Cardiovascular disease affects the heart, either due to a dysfunction with the heart itself, plaque buildup in the coronary artery, or plaque buildup throughout the vasculature, making it harder for the heart to do its job.

So what is heart health?

In general, if something improves heart health it helps the heart do its job better. If you have lower extremity artery disease (LEAD), something good for promoting blood flow in the lower extremity arteries may improve the return of blood to the heart which could help it pump more effectively. In congestive heart failure, depending on what is causing it, treating that root cause will help the heart pump blood better, reducing stress on the myocytes (name of the cells composing the heart). Off the top of my head, I’m thinking maybe beet juice could help with this, as it promotes blood flow and nitric oxide signaling (many things do this), which dilates the arteries, enhancing blood flow. This might work. It depends on the type of CHF and cause, along with the individual person.

What is mostly true is that many heart diseases can be prevented by not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, exercising regularly, and eating a varied diet rich in antioxidants and nutrients. Most of the diseases that kill people most likely can be prevented this way.

Finding the research

Let’s go to pubmed now and look for some research. I’ve learned a few things from my research classes about getting a good search result here. It takes practice. So watch first what happens when I type in “saturated fat” in the search box.

Not bad actually, when you have “best match” chosen (circled). If you chose instead “most recent” you would get less relevant results. Try it out yourself. We will definitely look at articles 2 and 4 (check marked).

The thinner circles at the bottom bring up the next subject. Instead of pouring through individual studies, we can look for systematic reviews or meta-analyses. Dr. Uman defines these two terms in her article as follows:

“Systematic reviews, as the name implies, typically involve a detailed and comprehensive plan and search strategy derived a priori, with the goal of reducing bias by identifying, appraising, and synthesizing all relevant studies on a particular topic. Often, systematic reviews include a meta-analysis component which involves using statistical techniques to synthesize the data from several studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size (Petticrew & Roberts, 2006).”

Reviews just review what’s out there, and a meta-analysis takes a bunch of studies, pools their data, and performs a new statistical analysis.

Refining the search

We will now search “saturated fat intake cardiovascular disease all cause mortality,” checking just systematic reviews and meta analyses. 13 results show up.

Not bad. Now we will go one step further and go to the advanced search. Click “advanced” below the search box. We are now going to tell the search feature to look for all studies matching two different search phrases. You can simultaneously search for two things at once with one search by using the phrase OR. My search query is now “saturated fat intake AND cardiovascular disease OR saturated fat intake AND all cause mortality.”

17 results! WOW. Just kidding…the 4 additional studies here aren’t really answering our question. So in this case the advanced search wasn’t necessary.

Now let’s compare this to google searching. To my surprise, there is one article (circled below) that did not show up in my pubmed search results. I’ll have to ask my professor about that. One of the other articles that shows up was in my search results.

We will talk about the article shortly. Next, let’s click on “scholarly articles” (where the arrows are pointing). To my surprise, most of the articles on the first page aren’t answering my question.

I’m not interested in flavonoid intake google! Well atually I am but not right now. I am drinking some pour over coffee I made myself and there are flavonoids and polyphenols in there.

Article discussion time

One of the articles google found was not in my pubmed search. This article is titled “Food Sources of Saturated Fat and the Association With Mortality: A Meta-Analysis.” The researchers here set out to answer a few different questions. They were interested in whether or not a high consumption of foods containing saturated fat increased all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, or cancer mortality. They found a slight inverse association with milk, a low positive association with meat, and a moderately positive association with processed meat consumption. In general they said the evidence is too weak to support the idea that eating meat promotes mortality from all causes. They reviewed 26 different studies. That study deserves a separate post. I will keep it brief here as we still have to talk about cholesterol after this.

The second study I want to discuss is titled “Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies” (it’s a free article). They answered the same questions I want to answer (we can decide if their answer is definitive or not) and a few more. They look for an association with saturated and trans unsaturated fat with all cause mortality, CHD mortality, CVD mortality, CVD incidence, ischemic stroke, and diabetes incidence. They found no association with saturated fat and all cause mortality or cardiovascular disease. For trans fat though it’s a different story; they differentiated between natural trans fats (the ones found in grass fed meat and milk) and industrial trans fats (products of hydrogenation of vegetable oils commonly found in processed foods). Total trans fat intake was associated with a statistically significant increase in all cause mortality. Ruminant trans fats were inversely associated with diabetes (but no association was seen with cardiovascular disease). This association was the strongest out of any other association in the study, and warrants a future post.

There are plenty of other articles like these you can find from the pubmed search we went through. In general it seems as if there is no association whatsoever with saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease or all cause mortality. In part four we will discuss the strength of these findings and come to a conclusion on whether or not we should agree with this.

Cholesterol intake

Using the methods above, I searched for “cholesterol intake cardiovascular disease.” I found a paper titled “Dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” This paper answered many questions. One of them was if cholesterol intake had an effect on VLDL (very low density lipoprotein). This is one of the “bad” cholesterols, but it’s not so simple. They evaluated three different trials to answer this question and basically found no association. They also didn’t find much association with cholesterol intake and other serum lipids in general.

They found six different trials investigating cholesterol intake on coronary artery disease (CAD). Only one (a study in a Japanese population) found a statistically significant association. For the rest no positive association was found. Cholesterol intake also had no effect on death from CAD, except in one study where an effect was seen in men who consumed about 430 mg of cholesterol per day. This study had more vegetarians than omnivores, so there could be something else mediating this relationship. 430 mg of cholesterol a day is about a few eggs worth. This may sound alarming but it’s not, as it was just one study, and many other factors could have potentiated this positive relationship. I will have to look into that study separately.

Other studies they evaluated found no association with cholesterol intake and any CVD. Whether its CAD or CVD the results are pretty consistent that there is no positive relationship between cholesterol intake and those diseases. I don’t think they answered all cause mortality so we will just skip over that for now and say don’t worry about it!

Conclusion: In general when studies are discussed we should look at their methods, the population studied, and the outcomes they assessed, in more detail. Here I am just sharing the overall conclusions from some of the most robust analyses on the questions we chose to answer. If there was a huge effect of eating more saturated fat, which is naturally found in milk, cheese, butter, meat, and coconuts, on your heart health, we would expect to see its effect in such large studies where tens of thousands of people are evaluated. There is strength in numbers; the larger the population size the stronger the conclusion from statistical analyses one can draw.

The downside is that individuality is lost. What about meat eating among those who follow a paleo diet versus meat eating in those who follow a standard American diet versus those who eat meat in moderation and try to be healthy but aren’t strict about following a diet? Those are all different populations and I’d have to do more digging to see if studies have been done on these populations. For now, it’s settled. Saturated fat won’t kill you. Eating cholesterol doesn’t cause heart attacks and likely has no relationship with all cause mortality. Emphasize whole food once again and try to connect to nature as much as you can. Choose grass-fed meat whenever possible. Choose pasture-raised eggs. Be proactive about what’s going in to your dinner plate. I know I could even improve in that with my busy lifestyle! I have a quiz tomorrow morning I have barely studied for!

In part four I will talk more about statistics and how to draw conclusions from studies like the ones we analyzed. Hope you learned something.

Stay tuned!

I’m also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @sbcahealth. There is no newsletter at the current time. I may start one eventually but right now it’s not necessary! If you have questions about health you can also email me (stopbeingconfusedabouthealth@gmail.com).

I read the blood type diet years ago. I then read the Genotype Diet, an updated version of that book. In the latter one, naturopathic physician Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo devised a litany of physical measurements to determine what type of diet is best for one’s health in addition to the detailed reasons he outlined supporting his Blood Type Diet book published years before.

His work, based off of years of research and experimentation, was deemed debunked. People read about it online in press articles and decided that it wasn’t worth looking into. The BTD was now unscientific, just like all naturopaths apparently! Dr. Michael Greger, a highly biased vegan-diet-promoting doctor who cherry picks scientific studies and who I have even found to manipulate data to support his viewpoints published a critique. There was one on quackwatch too which is not a site I find trustworthy, to say the least.

As I have outlined in previous posts, like in a recent one about the saturated fat myth, science is often unable to study the complexities of reality. The study that “debunked” the blood-type diet did not really use the blood type diet. Dr. D’Adamo’s response to it addressed this and much more. His critique included that skeptics tend to never express curiosity. They come from a place of dismissiveness.

This was part of his response:

“A look at the core data used in the PLOS Study [1] debunking the Blood Type Diet (BTD) finds support for the researcher’s conclusions that if your experimental subjects eat potato chips, sandwiches, pizza, ‘beans,’ mac-and-cheese, French Fries and processed meat products while doing 13.7% of the Blood Type Diet, their final cardiometabolic markers will probably not vary much by blood type.”

If you want to learn about the blood type diet one day and read about how it was debunked but never do any research beyond that yourself, you have not honored your curiosity. You have not followed the scientific method. You have relied on “science” that someone else did to arrive at your conclusion about how things work. And you are wrong.

End of story.

I am not going to provide a detailed explanation on why I like the blood type diet. The main reason is that it is idividualized and based on trial, error, and lots of experimentation. Although I have no idea why some types can eat manchengo cheese and others cannot, I am open to the idea that some types may be more sensitive to certain proteins. I think that was his theory but I’ll have to save this discussion for a future post. There may be flaws to it but unlike other diets, it was devised by someone who seemed to put in more time and effort into it than people usually do it diet books. Based on these observations I do not think that the blood type diet debunking study came anywhere close to debunking the success stories people have had with it.

 

On a recent instagram post about red meat, where I suggested that meat is not bad for you, someone commented that I was a charlatan and that the science was in consensus about the health dangers of red meat consumption.

Now I’ve received comments like this before, from having a youtube channel and discussing non-mainstream views on health. Calling naturopaths quacks and charlatans is done without thought by those who get their medical education from the internet or spend too much time believing what they learned through conventional routes of medical education.

What I did find interesting was the term he used–“scientific consensus.” It reminded me of the scientific consensus that climate change is happening.

Without reading the literature on climate change I am inclined to believe that the scientific consensus is onto something. I’ve heard many times that the sea level is rising, glaciers are melting, and animals are going extinct because of climate change. I can believe that. I’ve watched planet earth on netflix and short films by National Geographic that have clearly shown me that there is a change in the climate. Beyond that, I have no idea as I have not studied the details. I just recycle and aim to reuse what I can.

But is there a scientific consensus that red meat consumption is bad for your health? Well, I am going to break down the science for you, without citing it, because it’s a huge waste of time. If I cite research for you, I will have you making the same mistake the Instagram commenter did. Instead of talking about science that has been published, we are going to think about our own unique scientific experiment (in part two especially). If I cited research that shows no association between saturated fat consumption and all-cause mortality, you might be more likely to believe me, but would you keep reading and be stimulated to construct the big picture as we will do now? I doubt it. Most likely, people will say, “okay cool I can eat red meat” and move on. Well yes you definitely can but here’s why.

Why people think red meat is bad

The two bad things in red meat that are mistakenly attributed to be the cause of its alleged negative health effects are saturated fat and cholesterol. Since pharmaceutical companies have successfully spent billions of dollars convincing patients that cholesterol is a bad guy and that lowering it will improve cardiovascular disease outcomes, red meat seems like a bad idea. It’s mind-boggling that all of this is a huge lie.

The other day a middle-aged gray-haired male was reading side effects of a statin his doctor was interested in him taking at an Indian restaurant where I indulged in a buffet after fasting. This man was also seeing a naturopath, since we were in Oregon where a lot of insurance companies cover naturopathic primary care (they do what MD’s do, and prescribe some herbs along the way depending on how naturopathic they are; unfortunately many have compromised their values but that is another discussion). I started a conversation with him.

“Have you heard of red yeast rice (RYR)?”

“Ah yes, I have! What are your thoughts on that?”

“Well, I recommend it. It actually contains lovastatin. 40 mg of RYR will contain about 10 mg lovastatin, while working just as well as 40 mg of lovastatin. You also get other compounds in there so instead of just one that blocks the crap out of one enzymatic pathway you have more than just one mechanism of action. Furthermore, since you use less statin, you have less muscle cramping and more CoQ10, an important mitochondrial factor that aids in energy production and declines with age. See if you’re on a statin you might have less exercise tolerance because of your reduced CoQ10. It’s just a theory as there aren’t a whole lot of studies on this but exercse is very good for heart health so it’s ironic to me that being on a statin can inhibit your ability to derive the benefits of something you should be doing for your health.”

This individual was very happy I spoke with him.

People who like listening to the “scientific consensus” tend to place too much trust in published research and don’t seem to investigate the matter on their own. They hope that things are right but there are always missing pieces of information. They will say that statins have shown reduced risk of major adverse cardiovascular events and that the benefit of treatment outweighed the risks. It sounds wonderful, but they don’t think holistically, as I attempted to demonstrate above in my conversation with this man. If we are interested in health, we need to go beyond outcome measures and look inwards.

That should answer whether or not saturated fat is bad for you. The research shows X, or Y, or Z, but doesn’t consider everything in between. Research may have shown in the past that a high fat diet fed to mice led to increased aortic plaques and a reduced lifespan. Substitution of the saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats diminished this increased adverse effect. Although compelling, we don’t eat the way mice and rats do in these studies. And that’s why the large studies have found no effect from saturated fat consumption and heart attacks (to be discussed in part three).

Studying a real diet is often too complicated for research purposes. Research must have clearly defined outcome measures, interventions, populations, and control groups. What goes on your plate is not as clearly defined as a saturated fat.

In part two of this segment, I will begin the discussion on why red meat actually isn’t bad for you with an emphasis on holistic thinking. This post was meant to I guess get the thinking process started. Stay tuned!

I DRANK A MUSCLE MILK TODAY!
What did those artificially flavored synthetic chemicals in the watery-soup of a proteinaceous muscle-building drink do to my body?

Years ago, specifically, say, 5 years ago, when I was super into whole foods only diets and did not eat out, drink alcohol, consume artificial things, the idea of consuming Muscle Milk never crossed my mind.

But after burning out my adrenals from lifting too heavy too often, and after being so rigid in my diets that I was not a normal person and achieved no health benefit from doing so, I’ve learned something really simple about food: it’s not that simple and it’s not THAT important. Yea you feel good when you eat healthy foods, but we don’t know what’s healthy.

Most people’s ideas about a healthy diet is something that is catabolic: it breaks down tissues in the body because of the low calorie content. A healthy diet should actually have a good balance between anabolic and catabolic substances. You don’t need to eat salads and granola: that’s something you should eat if you’re 100 lbs overweight.

That being said, I chose between the lesser of two evils today. It was either drink some Muscle Milk because that’s what’s available at the gym, or eat nothing because I don’t have time to get an actual meal. I’d much rather make my own whey protein shake because it tastes way better than Muscle Milk but the nutrients in there gave me energy.

I walked into my lab class feeling energized. My stress levels were lower too (stress hormones go up after intense quick workouts!).

If I hadn’t taken this, I would have been less healthy. I would have been stressed. No meditation wouldn’t help. I need calories. The protein isolates helped my muscles recover.

The findings we’ve made from reductionist science has allowed a product like this to be successful on the market. I bet you I could drink it every day (not worth it though imo) and not have any issues!

If you understand this you’re golden. If it disturbs you, perhaps you’re too rigid with your food habits. Perhaps you wonder if having something artificial will take a year off your lifespan. It won’t. It won’t because food is not that powerful. But eating bad foods day after day and living OUT OF BALANCE will take quality years away from your life.

By drinking the Muscle Milk, part of me achieved a healthful balance, and I felt great.

I ate so clean that I was a lean mean clean eating machine.

My meals were devoid of added sugars, added salt, sugar-sweetened beverages, empty calories, vegetable oils, and were pretty bland. I ate brown rice with eggs for dinner basically. Sometimes I added a little ketchup.

For snacks I would eat a bag of nuts. Or maybe some cheese. Both were low-carb options. I might eat some fruit too. For breakfast I would either eat a few eggs or make a smoothie with some lettuce and melon.

I also was into superfoods, like spirulina, maca powder, goji berries, and the like. None of these things are foods. Those were just marketing terms designed to get you excited about what these unpalatable things will do for your health. Maybe they’ll make you feel great but they are supplements. That was the clean eating myth.

The premise of clean eating

People who are into clean eating are usually into weight loss or lowering their body fat and going to the gym. I’ve noticed that many of them are young and have caught the bug. The media infected their brain and they live in Western society.

People who defend clean eating acknowledge the obesity rates and cite it as a way to escape from that. In reality it’s just an addiction and a lifestyle engendered by a desire to change body shape and composition. When you want to change how your body looks, it can get so bad that you’ll eat the craziest things to get there.

So I see a lot of young people and sometimes older people with the bug talk about clean eating but they all seem to be interested in going to the gym and staring at themselves in the mirror quite often.

Where clean eating fails

Clean eating isn’t therefore about health. It’s about looks and it’s a product of Western culture and consumerism. If lifting weights and working out a lot and then having a low body fat percentage is healthy, then it would work. People who are naturally lean can eat whatever they want. That’s healthy.

Clean eating supports that “eat less move more” mantra. That just doesn’t work forever, and it may be a bad idea for young healthy individuals.

It may certainly improve the health of people who are obese. But the research hasn’t shown it to help people who aren’t obese. Mediterranean diets have been studied in the literature and definitely the epidemiological research shows that avoiding really bad foods and lifestyle habits like drinking often, smoking cigarettes, and eating fast food is going to be better (duh). But that doesn’t support clean eating from an evidence-based standpoint.

That doesn’t matter though because more importantly, clean eating also isn’t instinctual or based on our body’s internal feedback. When we eat, our bodies tell us how we feel about the food: how filling it is, how much energy we have, and if we want to eat it again. By convincing ourselves that eating clean is going to be better for us (as i’ve done), we won’t listen to what our bodies are telling us. And then in the long run, we may end up with imbalances.

This is what clean eating really looks like.

IG: @sbcahealth

That’s an old post of mine on instagram.

So I hope you agree that clean eating isn’t the same as healthy eating. However, the USDA and most places you learn about nutrition probably think they’re the same, because the USDA’s healthy eating index basically tells us to eat more grains, fruits, dark leafy greens, seafood, nuts, and avoid saturated fat and sugar. It’s boring and uninstinctual that’s why few people do it. People try to eat healthy for 30 days at a time (like that new diet book that came out) because afterwards, their bodies tell them they’re out of balance.

The really “dedicated” people (idiots actually), won’t listen to their bodies. They won’t make excuses. They think they’re working hard by trying to get a six pack in the gym at 5 AM. And they will likely have elevated stress hormones and in the long run that will cancel out any potential benefit from being physically active. Only their positive attitude, as long as it isn’t destroyed by stress hormones, keeps them going.

Physical activity by the way, as referred to in the literature, and as recommended by doctors for patients who desperately need it, is about walking, hiking, being outside, and not sitting down as much, and doing some moderate exercise. That has been studied in the literature. Going hardcore in the gym has not. Hey, that doesn’t mean the gym is bad. I’m really against that type of dismissive evidence-based thinking because it’s unscientific. However, it says something about human nature. Most people listen to their bodies, and don’t workout that hard when they do workout. 

And I think that’s healthier than being ‘dedicated’ and having rigid fitness goals. Add clean eating to this and it’s a recipe for disaster. I did it for years and developed adrenal issues which I’ve been healing on and off for a year since I let go of lifting as heavy as possible. It’s just that at my age (24), I have a lot of energy and can quickly get addicted for some reason to physical activity. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it’s because I started playing various sports as a young kid. Now that I follow my body though, I feel a lot better.

So what is healthy eating?

I will cover this in more detail in a separate post, but healthy eating CAN indeed include some of the things the research has shown, but if it is based entirely on that, the subjective intuitive aspect will be missing. And for something so intuitive, nutrition science is completely unnecessary to achieve perfect health and to look great naked.

And the other thing is, many different diets could be healthy. So it’s hard to say what healthy eating really is. We know what unhealthy eating is but there is a lot of delicious room for making eating healthy. Beyond healthy, food should be nourishing. If you eat beans, low fat dairy, small portions of meat, and salad as your dinner, that may be perfectly healthy according to the USDA, but is it nourishing? Probably not as much as full-fat dairy, more meat, and foods you really crave.

So enjoy this picture of a curry I made with some lamb and quail eggs (I normally don’t eat quail eggs but found them in an asian grocery recently) and lots of spices. I ate it with white rice, which I prefer taste-wise over brown rice, like the vast majority of people in the world.

IG: @sbcahealth

P.S. When I was a lean mean clean eating machine, I would never have agreed with this stuff. But I didn’t know what I was doing to my body. There are certainly people who believe in clean eating and going to the gym who are listening to their bodies, but the whole ‘dedication’ and ‘fitspiration’ mindset can lead to doing way too much for what is healthy to achieve something that is just a trend among a certain group of people.

If you want to read more content like this, subscribe to my email list (below) to be notified of when my guide to stop being confused about health comes out. For being a subscriber, you’ll get it for free. It will cover how to think about health, where to get information from, how to analyze ideas, and several myths.

Carpe diem.

I’m finally going to start talking about food, which many people these days think way too much about. Some people want to know what to eat to achieve a certain goal, whether it be weight loss or improved health or curing cancer. For the purposes of this post, I will discuss “bad” foods you can eat while maintaining optimal health, which is more important than losing weight, but I guarantee you that you can eat these foods while losing weight too.

So, have you wondered if you can really eat sugar, or pizza, or cheeseburgers, and other foods you really want to eat without any remorse? Well, the good news is yes, you can. In my shortest post ever, I discussed how you can eat whatever you want and the method is pretty obvious. I don’t expect the orthorexic people to agree with this but it’s pretty straightforward here. Eating isn’t an intellectual exercise folks, it should be completely thoughtless. Sticking to whole foods is great, and some of these can be part of a whole foods diet (like red meat below), while others are foods you would find in a restaurant and you probably won’t be eating everyday! The key with this list is to really make an effort to make this an instinctual rather than an intellectual exercise. Even better, make it completely thoughtless, but if you can make it instinctual, your body will not eat too much of it anyway because you’ll get bored of it or sick of it eventually.

Now here is the list, enjoy:

1. Red meat

There is no evidence that you will die from eating red meat (including that recent study on meat that didn’t work out). People just want to prove their ideas correct in the nutrition field, and there won’t be any studies anytime soon on people who eat red meat and exercise a lot and don’t do all the other bad things people who tend to eat more red meat do: smoke, drink, have lower education, lower SES, lower physical activity, etc. You can’t trust big data studies on this one. Try to go grass-fed or pasture raised (just go to whole foods for your meat if that’s in your budget) but if you’re in a restaurant and that’s not available just don’t worry about it because you’ll be fine.

2. Sugar

If you don’t move and just eat a lot of sugar and develop cravings for it that way, it’s probably unhealthy. But after exercising, something health-minded people want to do, your body may crave more sugar than usual. Health conscious individuals who exercise though often try to limit calories and sugars after exercising because they think it’s full of empty calories. Professional athletes however are known to drink sodas and tons of carbohydrates to prepare for training sessions, because it will help with performance and reduce inflammation and stress form exercise, contrary to what the low carbohydrate diet advocates believe. If you want to get really lean, then I’d agree cut it out, but that won’t make you healthier forever. So after a long day, if you’re craving some sugar, go for it, but no one is telling you to binge on it!

3. Fat

Most people who go on a diet want to cut fat out. Well guess what, eating fat has nothing to do with you getting fat; it has a very similar chance of being stored as fat as any calorie in excess whether it be from a polysaccharide or an amino acid (carb or protein). Consuming vegetable oils (canola, soybean, corn, safflower) in massive quantities is probably bad, but eating nuts aren’t. Butter, ghee, lard, olive oil, etc., are all health promoting and are good oils to cook with (actually butter isn’t a good oil to cook with due to low smoke point). Also if you end up restricting fat, you may end up consuming more sugar. All the studies have shown no benefit to low-fat diets. If you want to consume less junk, try focusing on eating whole foods rather than fats, carbs, or proteins.

4. Ghee

A lot of Indian people think ghee makes them fat, when in reality, it’s the combination of milk and sugar in so many different dishes and desserts that does it. Ghee has been known to remove toxins from the body like an astringent substance, so it’s actually good for weight and detoxification for most people according to Ayurveda.

5. Fruit juice

Fruit juice has received a bad wrap because of the fitness industry’s orthorexic and misguided belief that it makes you fat therefore it’s unhealthy. We are hardwired to want to extract nutrition from food and refine it to make it taste better. Eating 5 oranges takes a lot longer than drinking some orange juice where you can get all the nutrition, except the fiber, and pound it down in a minute. Fruit juice contains fructose, which is sweet and therefore it tastes good. That’s how much you really should be thinking about this. If you’re thinking in terms of fructose and the krebs cycle you’re in lala land imo like Dr. Robert Lustig and Gary Taubes (they both have great points actually just poking fun). One quick note about fruit juice: read the damn ingredients. Often, you’ll find white grape and apple juice used to as a filler to make the product cheaper.

6. Pizza

I’m not a pizza-craver but I’ve seen more than a few people who crave it, especially during late nights. It has refined carbohydrates and cheese all wrapped up in a hot cheesy red sauce that is probably stress-relieving in some way. Thin people crave pizza all the time so there really should be no remorse for eating it. It doesn’t have to be considered a “guilty pleasure,” which is such a misguided phrase. Pizza can be very health-promoting because cheese is a very metabolism boosting food. Any food that is calorie dense can do this but with pizza, you’re getting some nutrition out of it too: not much but some.

pizza

7. Cheesecake

It’s made from cheese, so you’re going to get some vitamin A, calcium, and protein. It’s healthy in moderation.

8. Cheeseburgers

Continuing on the topic of cheese now, you may be realizing something; the reason why all these foods aren’t bad is because they relieve stress. If you want proof, let’s conduct a study where we force people to fight against their cravings and choose “healthy” options, for a period of at least 2 months, and compare this with another group that just follows their cravings. I bet you that the group that goes with the cravings will be healthier. Now, we could be craving a particular taste, rather than a food with nutrition in it, and not all cheeseburgers are created equal so this could be a problem. Again, aim for whole foods; a cheeseburger should contain meat, cheese, some vegetables and pickles if that’s your thing, and bread. The fillers and ingredients in a McDonald’s cheeseburger however aren’t food so I would recommend against that option.

9. White bread

It’s everywhere, and although it is very refined and spikes your blood sugar and can help you gain a lot of weight quickly, in moderation it’s a good source of calories and betaine even. Empty calories is a huge myth; sometimes our bodies just need calories to increase our metabolism. Some people are indeed sensitive to gluten, and I do not eat white bread myself except when I go out and eat burgers, because white bread contains canola oil and other junk that I don’t consider real food, but if you eat it and have adequate micronutrients in your diet or through supplementation and don’t gain 50 lbs you’ll be fine. If you’re sensitive you’ll know.

10. Other kinds of bread

I had a HUGE fear of bread when I was reading about the Paleo diet. Actually it wasn’t a fear, it was an irrational belief that since our ancestors didn’t eat bread it was somehow wrong for me to eat bread. Well I have realized that the paleo diet is probably the most nonsensical diet out there, as most people agree, and that bread makes me feel full and good. I have no gluten intolerance so I’m happy to eat naan, sandwiches, wraps, and stuff like that anytime. Of course, if you want to lose weight, cutting it out can help, but the most important factor is reducing your caloric intake. The thing with bread, just like cheeseburgers, is that they’re not all created equal. Bread is a product that comes from wheat, or other grains that can pack a lot of nutrition. There are some mills out there still that make bread without all the canola oil and high fructose corn syrup and other cheap fillers you will find in regular bread at the supermarket, so that is going to be my first choice. I don’t crave bread though so I rarely eat it anyway.

11. Non-organic produce

I prefer organic food, but I have met some hard-working farmers that use pesticides that they claim aren’t harmful, and the fact is that without these pesticides they wouldn’t have crops to sell to you. Farming isn’t easy, and most of us are so alienated from growing food we have no idea what the difference between organic and conventional is. If you want to know exactly how it works, try looking up the exact pesticide and doing research on how much exposure you are getting. The other thing is by supporting conventional you are basically supporting Monsanto, which sucks, so I would recommend going organic. But if you’re at a restaurant and aren’t eating a certain vegetable because it’s not organic, just realize you probably have absolutely no idea what the insignificant amount of pesticides are actually doing to do to you.

12. GMO food

The whole anti-GMO movement is full of hippies and natural-everything enthusiasts and not much real science. I am not in favor of Monsanto, so I wish to boycott GMOs, but I have to admit that people are really not thinking straight here. Whenever they hear about a new GMO they want to boycott it but there could be some benefits. Round-up ready corn on the other hand has been proven to be very dangerous to consume, but not all GMOs are round-up ready corn so just remember that things aren’t that simple.

13. Soda

Also known as pop, soda has a ton of sugar. I don’t recommend drinking coke, sprite, or any of those conventional sodas, because well, there are better ways to get your soda fix. I recommend Virgil’s sodas, and Fentman’s sodas, because they use herbs (they claim they do but I can make more herby ones that are better once I learn) and there is actual nutrition in there. Root beer was originally a medicinal tea by the way, but it was advertised as a beer because the guy who came up with it was smart and knew it would have greater appeal that way. The first time I drank Virgil’s soda was the first time I drank soda in years, and it was during a period of time when I was severely overtrained and stressed and the soda made me feel better. I was burning sugar every day from my intense exercise, so why not drink some?

Virgil’s soda

14. White rice

Thin asian people eat white rice all the time. So do fat asian people, but they’re really good at table tennis, martial arts, and have fast reaction times, so maybe the sugars help keep the brain fueled optimally; better than those ketones that the brain-dead paleo people like to talk about. But in all seriousness, even though again, people advertising weight loss routines and supplements claim that white rice has empty calories, there’s a lot more to health than what they say, and the fact is, most people hate brown rice; it doesn’t taste as good and that much is obvious. It also is harder to digest… I tend to have great bowel movements with a spicy Indian curry with white rice by the way: so trust me there is still fiber.

15. Bacon Bacon is good for the soul. And that’s all I have to say about it.

Bananas and whipped cream, with maple syrup.

Bananas and whipped cream, with maple syrup.

First it was fat, but now sugar consumption is believed to be a major cause of obesity and the metabolic syndrome. But I think people are taking things out of context.

Fear of getting fat is a strong motivator for forming rules about our food; getting over them is the cornerstone for helping patients overcome eating disorders. Whether or not people will admit it to themselves, many who discuss health have an unhealthy relationship with food and lifestyle, displaying traits that patients with eating disorders have, as I’ll discuss in the future. Not all food rules are bad; we need some rules when food industry giants are stocking shelves with frankenfoods, but we have to be rational about weighing the risk to benefit ratio: something difficult to do when a society is increasingly concerned with looking good naked and preserving its youth. For example, an increase in sugar consumption per person since the 1970s has been blamed as a cause of weight gain. These extra calories have purportedly been stored as fat. Since the 1970s however, more people exercise and burn more calories as well due to a fitness boom. Since I started exercising, I ate more calories and more sugar, and I actually lost fat in the process. This n of 1 provides personal valuable insight that helps me guide my decisions and is a valid counterpoint to the idea that sugar promotes obesity.

Whether one wishes to lose fat, avoid fat gain, or just be healthy long term, there are some major unarticulated thoughts about how consuming sugar affects us. See, people with a disease process in their cells, such as insulin resistance and prediabetes, will have different consequences from consuming sugar than someone who is healthy. The cause of obesity isn’t sugar consumption per se, but it’s likely a mix of genetic predispositions and having a positive energy balance. Concentrated doses of sugar in sodas and sweets are more likely to increase the energy balance when consumed than sugars from fruit or honey for instance, increasing the chance of gaining fat mass, the precursor to insulin resistance. Perhaps this also explains why sugar consumption has risen in the past several decades; it’s prepared in tasty and addictive ways. Avoiding sugar seems warranted, but will this take us out of “balance?”

We’re hardwired to love sweets, naturally occurring or not. When we consume addictive combinations of sugar mindlessly, emotionally, and when we aren’t necessarily craving it however, sugar may lead to the negative consequences. What hasn’t been answered yet though, is how this balanced diet affects our physiology: is any processed sugar worse than no sugar? I don’t have the data to answer that question, but my guess is a big and emphatic NO. In fact from my experiences, some of which I’ll highlight further in this post, sugar can be health-promoting, especially for those obsessive health enthusiasts depriving themselves by food rules, while exercising intensely.

My goal here on SBCAH is to promote instinctual eating; instincts however can change based on what we put into our bodies. For some, eating more sugar may increase sugar cravings, and create an unhealthy pattern of sugar consumption. Those in the low-carbohydrate communities experience a reduction in sugar cravings following an elimination from their diet. This may have positive consequences, as foods start to become sweeter, and those previously addicting sugars now taste too sweet. For others, such as myself, consuming more sugar felt very “natural” after three to four years of consuming almost no added sugar of any kind. So how do you know if consuming sugar is right for you? Although there aren’t any studies on this, I believe if we try to follow our instincts with this, being in tune with ourselves, we’ll slowly develop a better grasp. Instead of restricting ourselves, fearing weight gain every time we crave an unhealthy treat, we’ll stop when our bodies tell us to. Although a “balanced” diet or one where we consume everything in “moderation” seems inferior to a strict diet that eliminates all seemingly unhealthy foods, there’s no science showing that, and it won’t ever show that in my opinion. Of course, nothing is ever certain, but here is a way for you to be in better tune with your instincts when it comes to sugar:

  • Reintroduce sugary foods that you once liked, or new foods with sugar that you want to consume
    • My favorite for example is Virgil’s Root Beer (I have no affiliation with the company). The first time I drank it was the first time I had consumed soda since I was a kid. It felt like heaven, and I felt stress melt away instantly. It was available at a local food co-op; I had never consumed it before. It’s pure sugar without any fat, digesting rapidly.
    • The purpose of doing this is to associate the sugar consumption with the response you get from sugar consumption. Initially, if you’ve avoided sugar for a while, you may not even have an instinct to consume it. That doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from it.
  • Pay attention to how you feel
    • How do you feel during and immediately after consuming it? One hour after? A couple?
    • How is your energy affected the next day?
    • How does your brain feel? Mood, cognition, alertness?
    • How is your digestion? Processed junk sugary foods may be more difficult to digest than homemade sweets.

Unfortunately there are no studies I’m aware of looking at how consuming sugar based on an instinctual eating approach affects health (there is no need for these studies anyway). Why isn’t consuming sugar in healthy people seen as a healthy thing? I agree with author Matt Stone that we need a robust and warm metabolism for optimal health, rather than a slower one, and this cannot be achieved by restricting calorie dense foods in our diets. The problems those on extreme diets develop include a low body temperature, low thyroid function, lowered fertility, and other metabolic problems. For these individuals, consuming sugar will likely be health promoting, improving fertility, thyroid, and cognitive function. For the nine to five sedentary man or woman with an office job, the excess sugar may lead to blood glucose imbalances, fatigue, and all the other problems; yet, if the instincts are followed, I have a strong hunch the vast majority, if not every single negative health implication of sugar can be avoided.

The takeaway here is that it’s perfectly fine to consume sugar when you’re hungry, as long as you can follow your instincts with it; something that most human beings do effortlessly. People who believe in “everything in moderation” already know this. These are the people who are less prone to creating unsubstantiated food rules in their life, because their instincts prevent them from doing so. My mother for example, she tells me she will start dieting tomorrow every day, but she enjoys eating her favorite sweets in moderation while staying slim and having no need to go on a restrictive diet. The fact that I need to write about it is unfortunate as well; people have misinterpreted research on sugar consumption, falsely applied it into their life in order to lose weight or be “ripped” and “shredded” and misinformed others about what to eat, causing severe consequences for their health and for others. Much of the research on sugar’s negative health effects have tested unrealistic amounts of sugar. Many people have improved their health by reducing sugar and may have substantiated reasons for doing so, but it’s the unwarranted sugar-phobia based on reductionist research methods that we must take with a grain of salt. Few people do a good job of restricting their sugar, because it just seems so natural and hard-wired, yet people seem to think they have to restrict sugar, salt, and eat “clean” to be healthy.

I reintroduced sugar back into my life almost a year ago, and my thyroid certainly improved since the sumer of 2013, when from my heavy lifting schedule and still strict food rules, I developed mild adrenal fatigue symptoms. I have gained two percentage points of body fat, going from around eleven or so with a six-pack to a still lean body with visible abs, staying pretty weight stable. I look great, and am perfectly happy with myself, but the question is: I gained body fat from consuming sugar, but my thyroid and other symptoms of a low metabolism improved, so what should I do? I can’t answer that question without more lab tests which I don’t need or have access to at the moment: tests to measure my coronary calcium score, visceral body fat, CRP, HbA1c . . . see where I’m going with this? These endless speculations are fun and interesting to ponder, but I doubt they’ll reveal much. I used to eat only fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds on a raw vegan diet but was higher in body fat than I am now. This fear of being fat as I mentioned in the beginning is just such a strong motivator. I shouldn’t even discuss it, because it gets people thinking. “Oh this woman has a great body, she must know what she’s talking about, whereas this dietician is fat and ugly, therefore her diet must be very poor;” I’ve had similar thoughts before as well, but now I’ve realized that it’s just so so complex that I don’t even know how to explain it; being at a lower body fat doesn’t mean greater health. There are forms of obesity where insulin resistance is not present and these individuals live normal healthy lives whereas metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance can affect lean people! Confusing!

But anyway, I try to be in tune with my cravings, consuming sugar when I feel I can handle it. I can tell when I’m full, and not in the mood for as many carbohydrates or sugars, and sometimes I really want starches over sugar. During the first few weeks when I began drinking the root beer I mentioned, I had an entire bottle, 40g of sugar, right before bed and slept more deeply than I had in a long time. I haven’t been able to replicate that experience but it was lovely. I often only drink half of the root beer too, consuming only 20g of sugar because that’s all I want to consume. I feel satiated and don’t form an addiction. Sometimes I go a week without any added sugar as well and have fewer cravings. I often only consume eggs for breakfast, which contains no sugar or carbohydrates, and notice steady blood sugar and energy for the rest of the day. Things are variable! When I decide to go back to my chocolate chip pancake routine, I happily will. This may sound confusing, but when I follow this instinctual pattern, it’s second nature and little to no thinking is involved. I’m hungry, I eat. Remember, it’s high blood sugar that’s dangerous for us, and this is caused by weight gain, especially in the abdominal region. Eating sugar won’t necessarily raise your blood sugar in the long term or cause weight gain if you can get better at following your elusive instincts. Being obsessive about diet is also dangerous, because people never have the full picture and restrict too heavily. If you’re healthy and consume a balanced diet with nutrient dense foods and adequate micronutrients, consuming empty calories when you’re hungry is not likely to cause any health issues and may keep you in “balance;” a term which I will continue to work towards more adequately defining. If you have strict food rules, slowly begin to introduce foods you once feared back into your life and pay close attention to the results; you just may not become obese or feel horrible. It might on the converse satiate you, and put you in a sweeter mood instead.

I know this explanation may be lacking in references, but there aren’t any adequate studies to my knowledge studying sugar composition in the context of a balanced and active lifestyle. If there are I’ll happily read them and revise my hypothesis. Using more of our common sense however is important here on SBCAH because I believe too much reliance on nutrition science is hurting people’s abilities to follow their own hunger cues. Of course, I’m not recommending a diet consisting of the types of processed foods found in the aisles of supermarkets; I think real food is a great foundation, but after that, there is so much variability that it leads me to conclude that it’s okay to eat oreos, to drink some Coke, and do other things that have become curse words among health-minded folk. The lack of holistic evidence also leads me to happily say that as well: that sugar phobia is unfounded, and much more than processed and refined sugar has caused the obesity epidemic. Letting go of dogma and being able to experiment is your friend. Being stuck up about food rules is a path to an enlightened place that probably does not exist. So once again, if your instincts feel inclined to do so, if you are willing to break through mental barriers and food phobia, if you’re active and haven’t eaten much sugar in a while, it may be time for you to get back in touch with that sweet tooth I know you have. Cheers.