New Dietary Guidelines Ignore Science

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The federal government has issued dietary guidelines every 5 years since 1980. They are the ones that came out with the food pyramid, and most recently gave limits for sugar, saturated fat, and sodium (salt). These guidelines affect many things, including what children get served for lunch at school.

For the first time ever, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, under the direction of the Trump administration, is limiting the scope of the committee. They gave them a list of 80 questions, and said they are not to consider anything outside that list. Those questions do not include health risks such as too much salt, red meat, and processed foods.

The nature of science is that with ongoing research things change. Most of you can probably recall getting conflicting diet recommendations over the years. We were told to avoid fats, as we subsequently got collectively heavier, then ketogenic diets said the opposite. Alcohol can decrease heart disease, then studies showed it can increase breast cancer. That’s why it’s important to periodically review the literature and adjust recommendations if warranted.

Why would the Trump administration want to limit the committee? For one thing, they have generally been anti-science in many areas, such as global warming. For another, as they say, follow the money. Thirteen out of 20 of the committee members have food industry ties. This compares with two of 12 members in 2015. You can read more details in a Washington Post article.

Health care costs have been going up at a rate higher than inflation for many years. Although there are many reasons for this, part of it is because people are getting more obese. This leads to such health issues as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and arthritis. The new rules effectively says that corporate interests trump human health. So that corporations can profit more, we will pay the price in our health, and in our future medical bills.

The statute (Public Law 101-445, 7 U.S.C. 5341 et seq.) that required the guidelines specifically says that the Dietary Guidelines be based on the preponderance of current scientific and medical knowledge. As that wouldn’t be the case, unless the restrictions are removed, I expect that from 2020 to 2025 I’ll be advising my patients to follow the 2015 guidelines.

Sesame Chicken

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I often suggest my patients use smart phone apps to help them with their diet, in particular Lose It! or MyFitnessPal. Both progams have the ability to scan a bar code of a food item, which will then show the amount of calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, etc for a given portion size. Not having any food in my exam rooms, I grabbed the box of tissues to show how to scan the bar code. Lose It! identified it as Sesame Chicken!

Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives

 

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Dr. David Eisenberg with his son and daughter demonstrating healthy cooking.

I recently attended the 11th Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives Conference put on by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America. It was a literally delicious combination of lectures from physicians, dieticians,  chefs, and others.

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Chef Adam Busby of the Culinary Institute of America

There were 411 people registered for the course, coming from 35 states, and internationally from 29 countries. Including spouses, faculty, chefs, and exhibitors, more than 550 people attended. For those registered, 59% were physicians, 11% nutritionists, 5% nurses & nurse practitioners, 5% masters of public health, and 20% others (chefs, psychologists, physical therapists, exercise trainers, physician assistants). The majority of physicians were internal medicine and family medicine, but also pediatrics, OB/GYN, sports medicine, psychiatry, anesthesiology, cardiology, endocrinology, and surgical specialties. A diverse group, indeed.

We had lectures from top notch physicians, dieticians, chefs, and others. Many were book authors. I already made a couple of recipes from Suvir Saran autographed book.

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Dr. Eward Phillips talking about exercise.

They fed us well, with something like 350 different healthy dishes to try.

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We also had a hands on kitchen session, then ate our own cooking.

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Chef Thomas Wong

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Now the challenge is how to use all the information and get my patients to eat healthier. As a start, I’ve posted some healthy recipes on Pinterest.

Cruise Health

As I wrote about last time, I attended the ACP Internal Medicine 2012 meeting in New Orleans. Afterwards my wife and I took a cruise on the Carnival Conquest ship that left from New Orleans and stopped at the ports of Cozumel, Jamaica and Grand Caymen.

On the first day of the cruise there is a mandatory safety briefing on deck where they discuss such things as how to board the lifeboats in the event of an emergency. The announcer appropriately discussed the importance of washing hands, but incorrectly said, “the hotter the better.” When it comes to washing your hands, cold water works as well as hot water, except that if it’s cold, people won’t wash their hands as long because it’s uncomfortable. The same is true if the water is too hot. Thus warm water is recommended.

We took an excursion to see the Mayan ruins of Tulum near Cozumel, Mexico. Before leaving the ship we were warned not drink the local water. Near the ruins in a tourist shopping center I was tempted to eat at a Häagen-Dazs ice cream stand. I figured the ice cream was safe, but I worried about the water used to clean the scoops. It was probably safe, but I didn’t want to take a chance.

Obesity is a common problem in the United States and elsewhere, and is particularly a problem in the South. This was reflected in the passengers having embarked in New Orleans. Although people understandably eat excessively on a cruise, to which I’ll take the 5th Amendment, there are opportunities to do some healthy things on a cruise. I took advantage of their gym and exercised every day, though few did. Most of the time half the people exercising were crew members.

While looking for something else, I happened to walk by an ongoing talk on Secrets To A Flatter Stomach. I sat down and listened. The speaker was a personal trainer, certified by the Australian Institute of Fitness. He was buff, which automatically makes one feel he knows what he’s talking about. In fact his advice on exercise and nutrition was sound, and he did a great job explaining things. He then talked about detox and the need to get rid of toxic water trapped around fat. They invited people to sign up for a 1 hour personal analysis and consultation at a 2 for 1 special of $35. I spoke with the speaker’s colleague, a man from Scotland, and also buff. I asked if they would be repeating the lecture as I thought my wife would enjoy hearing it. He said he would cover the same material at the consultation, and more, and do an analysis with equipment not available in the United States (this model is available in the US and seems close to the 310e V8.0 they used). I was skeptical about the detox, but the cost was pretty low so I signed up.

At our meeting he first had us fill out questionnaires about our health, including what medications we were taking and why. I purposely didn’t answer the question about occupation, but admitted I was a physician when he later asked. He then went on to tell me he had a BSC degree in Sports Science from the University of West of Scotland, which he said was about equivalent to a physician in the United States. It’s not. He ran a bio-electrical impedance test attaching an electrode to the ankle and wrist. Running a very low voltage and current, that you cannot feel, through the body, it calculates body fat, lean body weight, body water and metabolic rate. The calculations require the body weight, which he asked about, but did not measure (towards the end of a cruise the actual weight is likely to be significantly higher than the stated weight!). Although the equipment he used may not be available in the US, it’s similar to the Tanita bathroom scale I have at home. My device calculates body fat, though you have to do your own calculations to derive the other numbers, and the results he obtained were very similar to my results at home.

He said I needed to lose 6.1 lbs of fat, and admitted I was among the healthiest he had tested on the cruise, but that I also had  12.5 lbs of toxic water to remove. According to his handout, that put me in the level of, “High levels of accumulative toxic waste circulating the cells of the body. Damage to Liver and Kidneys apparent. Weight gain is inevitable. Degeneration of joints and muscle tissue. High Blood Pressure / High cholesterol.” He recommended a 3 month detox program for $300. Most people, “needed” a 6 month program, which consisted of two 3 month cycles, and some needed a year’s worth. They would then do a 3 month cycle every few years or so depending, less often if following a healthy diet. My credit card would be charged that day, and the product shipped the next, so we could get started on it as soon as we returned home. The products are supposed to cleans the digestive tract, kidneys and liver. They contain various herbal products, algae, plantain seeds for fiber, and a low dose thyroid product of some sort, and one is also supposed to eat alkaline forming foods. I was naturally skeptical. He claimed that his analysis showed that I needed detoxification because I had problems with my cholesterol. He said that with his device he didn’t need to do blood tests. How did he know about my cholesterol problem? Because I told him! Actually it’s not that much of a problem, but I try to be proactive.

He said that evening there would be a nutrition class, but only for those who signed up. He encouraged me to sign up for the detox, but said he wasn’t worried because they get 60 people per week to sign up. While we were talking he was interrupted by someone asking if a person could be signed up for a consultation, even though his schedule was full.  He said he would let us think about it while he took care of something. The class was later held in the gym in a glass walled off section. I counted 19 attendees. To show the legitimacy of the program, he said his company contracts with Carnival and other cruise lines to offer the program, and has been in business for years. I asked for clinical study references to support detoxification. He said he could give it to me, but not until after I signed up. I declined.

If you take a cruise, try to get in some exercise, if nothing more than some extra walking. I advise you to save your money and not spend it on a detox program, and don’t forget your sunscreen.