Let’s Talk about Research

Recently, I read this article about the paleo diet. (HT: Madwoman with a Laptop)

And, well, I’m kind of upset. Kind of. Why am I upset, you ask?

This person clearly didn’t do their research before posting their “drawback” area (which really surprises me because I see this person is a RD):

Despite the emphasis on very healthy foods, the Paleo diet has a few drawbacks or potential areas for misinterpretation. For one, the diet is heavily reliant on meat, and meat today isn’t as lean as it was thousands of years ago. Domesticated animals are sometimes stuffed with food and given little room to move resulting in fatty cuts of meat. In addition, adopting a diet from ancient times, when the average lifespan was in the 20s, seems less than appealing when one considers the average lifespan of today, which is in large part due to the eradication of nutrient-deficiency thanks to fortified foods and dietary supplements. The Paleo diet falls short on some of these micronutrients, namely calcium and vitamin D.

Hold up. Before I go on, let me say: this person is definitely right about some things. The paleo diet is quite dependent upon meat. However, the paleo diet stresses that you should eat grass-fed, lean meat. In fact, the first thing you should be eating is (dirt cheap) organ meat from (from grass-fed sources). But, there is also a heavy emphasis on eating fish. The Paleo Mom created a list of the best meats to eat, which is very helpful when grocery shopping. It’s not like we eat prime rib every night and call it a day. I mean come on.

Salmon. Image courtesy Today's Parent.

Image courtesy Today’s Parent.

Let’s talk about the second point: eating a diet that fed people who only lived into their 20s. This is a very unfair comparison. We live in a time that emphasizes modern medicine. People used to die from things such as measles, which can now be prevented. You can’t compare modern, scientific times to the paleolithic age. Sure, you could if you never got vaccinated, never used the hospital, and never saw a Western doctor EVER; but, these things are very, very unlikely. The Tylenol that you take when you get the flu to lower your fever never existed thousands of years ago. Humans have taken technology and used it to expand the lifespan of the average person. Even 50 years ago, people were not living as long as they are today. Case in point: this isn’t a good argument, and actually, it’s completely invalid.

Now, onto the point that made me more than a little upset: the paleo diet lacks intake of “micronutrients,” specifically vitamin D and calcium. Well, I have to make a correction. Vitamin D is actually not a micronutrient. It’s a vitamin. Anyway, this claim is so untrue it’s not even funny.

First, let’s address how vitamin D is made in the body. You’ve probably heard that vitamin D is made from exposure to sunlight. Sunlight hits the skin, causes a chemical reaction, and voila! You have vitamin D in your body. Of course, the process is much more complicated than that; but, that’s the main gist.

Sunlight. Image courtesy Network Vitality Center.

Sunlight. It does a body good.
Image courtesy Network Vitality Center.

“But Brittany,” you protest, “if it’s as simple as getting sunlight, how are so many people vitamin D deficient?”

My first suggestion would be to look at how much time you actually spend outside without sunscreen. Of course, this also depends on your skin tone. If you have a lighter skin tone, you probably only need 15-20 minutes of sun exposure a day; darker tones may need a bit more. The second thing to look at is your overall diet. Are you including fish? Fish is the main source of vitamin D in the paleo diet. Of course, if you don’t eat fish, you could supplement for it; but, as stated above, fish is important to add to the diet because it’s an important meat source.

I’ve never supplemented for vitamin D, and I’ve never been deficient.

I started with vitamin D first because it’s important for the micronutrient calcium.

While our bodies can make vitamin D, we can’t make calcium. Calcium has to be absorbed through foods. Vitamin D is the vitamin that allows the body to absorb calcium. So, if you’re vitamin D deficient, you are likely calcium deficient, too. It’s highly recommended that paleos eat sardines because they contain a lot of calcium, but there are a lot of paleos who eat dairy (beep beep, paleo police!), which is a HUGE source of calcium. Yes, it’s true: many, many paleos eat dairy because they tolerate it. That dairy is, of course, grass-fed dairy.

The lesson here: do your research before you post. Provide links with your evidence. Know what you’re talking about. Research is important and imperative.

Another note on research: I’ve been reading Chris Kresser’s quite interesting and informative article about the so-called benefits of supplementing with calcium. He writes:

Yet the evidence that calcium supplementation strengthens the bones and teeth was never strong to begin with, and has grown weaker with new research published in the past few years. A 2012 analysis of NHANES data found that consuming a high intake of calcium beyond the recommended dietary allowance, typically from supplementation, provided no benefit for hip or lumbar vertebral bone mineral density in older adults.

Here’s my thoughts, ladies and gents: do outside research on everything that goes into your body. If it’s published by the government, skip it. If it seems to have an undertone of selling you something, skip it. These people have their own agenda. They have their own companies to think and worry about. They don’t care about you as people; they care about money. Look for independent research. Look for research done by someone who’s not getting paid to sell you something. Research, research, research until you die.

Nutrition Label Shmabel

If you haven’t heard, the FDA is changing the nutrition label that you find on packaged products.

FINALLY! Right?! ‘Cause I’ve been waiting 20 years for this to happen. Oh wait, no I haven’t.

Well, why haven’t I? Because who actually reads nutrition labels, really? I see people all the time in the grocery store (which is one of my favorite places to hang out, just so you know) pick up items off the shelf and dump them in their cart. No questions asked, no label scrutinized.

When I was younger, I didn’t bother with reading labels either. Because.. Well, let’s face it: I liked what I liked. I was young. I didn’t care what was in it. If it was delicious, I ate it. I never had a nutrition class in high school, so why would I bother looking at the label? I didn’t know what it meant anyway. 50% of my daily intake of fat? Okay. Sounds good and delicious: I’ll take that one, please!

So, let’s look at the new label. Some changes they’ve made (and some commentary):

New nutrition label by the FDA Image courtesy fda.gov

New nutrition label by the FDA
Image courtesy fda.gov

  • Larger font for total calories: alright, I guess, not that people seem to take this into high consideration.
  • Requirement for showing added sugars: this is one change I approve of 2,000%!
  • Removing the calories from fat info: sure, this one is alright. I doubt anyone was looking at it before, so why not?
  • Moving percentages into the left column: I think this looks particularly tacky. Are they trying to scare people with the “large” numbers? If people didn’t see it before, they probably didn’t look at food labels.
  • Serving sizes based on what people actually eat: I’m on the fence about this change, but I’ll address it later.
  • Removing vitamin A & C percentages: good move, these are found in everything. They were never really needed.
  • Adding vitamin D & potassium: vitamin D is certainly important, but I’m not seeing the advantage of potassium. Potassium is in a lot of foods, so maybe someone can enlighten me on why this change was implemented.

The biggest and most positive change being made is addressing whether there are any added sugars. I want to know how many added sugars are in something and so should you. Those “natural flavors” aren’t actually so natural, and they are really, really bad for you. Why?

Natural vs added sugars Image courtesty boostjuice.com.au

Natural vs added sugars
Image courtesy boostjuice.com.au

Read up, people: a study on the effects of sugar. Yes it’s true. A Cambridge University study has found that it’s not that saturated fat killing you, but rather the lovely sugar people add to everything. It has been impossible to get an accurate depiction of just how many sugars are natural (milk and fruit sugars) and how many come from added sugars in processed products. How is the average person supposed to know the difference between these two distinctive types of sugars when the ingredients label is nothing but scientific jargon, anyway? They can’t, and this is why it needs to change.

In regards to changing the serving size to reflect American portions: I have a hard time with this. The standard serving size for a juice drink, for example, is 8 ounces (one cup). However, the new “standard size” is actually 12 ounces, and this will be reflected on the label. The change will allow people to accurately see how many calories they are actually consuming.. Or will they? Because who knows if they’ll even care about the nutrition label.

Whole foods Image courtesy berkeleyside.com

Whole foods
Image courtesy berkeleyside.com

The answer to all of this is to eat whole foods. Stick to something without a box. The label becomes obsolete and useless once you start doing so. In addition, you can ditch counting calories. Why waste your time with that? The body thrives on whole foods, so you won’t even need to worry about it (unless you’re taking the opportunity to eat 3 or 4 bags of grapes).

What do you think of the label changes?