‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: shut your pie hole or, in this case: put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Rules Are... There Ain't No Rules

When it comes to food and 'diets', everyone thinks they're an expert. We all eat food, right? So therefore we all must be food experts...? Well, I drive a car every day, does that make me a qualified mechanic? Would you take my advice for fixing your car? I certainly wouldn't. So why do we let unqualified 'health professionals' peddling preposterous pea-brain piffle, tell us what to put in our pie holes? No holds barred today, we're talking all manner of diets, rules and food.

We've all heard 'grazing' on smaller meals is better than eating fewer large meals because it 'boosts' or 'revs up' our metabolism. A new study found:
  • No difference in energy expenditure/metabolism when subjects ate five small meals vs two larger meals (same total calories)
  • It's about total calories eaten, not the time of day they're eaten... It's personal preference, you don't want to be around me if I'm not fed. Two meals? No thanks
Now, we can't have an article that doesn't spruik the benefits of vegetables. These include, but are by no means limited to: reducing inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol and a myriad of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Here's the bottom line from a new study:
  • Seven serves of fruit and veg per day = less death, less cancer, better heart health
  • Australia's got this covered - Go for 2 and 5 serves of F&V each day
    • 1/2 cup of cooked F&V or 1 cup raw is a serve
    • Sorry America, you only recommend 5 serves total... And your website is bloody confusing
Source: http://www.healthytogethermildura.com.au/what-is-a-serve
Another new study compared the benefits of many different diets including low fat, low carb, vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean and paleo (shudder). Here's the abridged version:
  • Injudicious diets are a leading cause of premature death and chronic disease
  • Low carb diets have no global definition
    • They generally restrict calories, hence weight loss
    • If they're not restrictive, protein is upped to compensate for the carb reduction, research shows this increases adverse metabolic effects
  • Low fat or vegetarian diets are generally <20% of calories from fat
    • Usually plant based, which reduces cancer risk and cardiometabolic disease (thumbs up)
    • On the flip-side, calories often increase because low fat foods compensate with bonus starch/sugar
    • No definitive research shows a low fat diet is better than a diet higher in healthy fat (think Mediterranean)
  •  Vegetarian diets don't = healthy (same goes for vegan)
    • Very restrictive vegetarian/vegan diets often lead to suboptimal nutrition and micronutrient deficiency (AKA no different to a crap western diet)
  • Mediterranean - tons of research shows it's great (here's a whole article)
  • Paleo (argggh) is all about plant based foods but excludes dairy/carbs/processed foods (like a caveman)
    • Great, until you realise most of the plants and all of the animals caveman ate are extinct...
    • Caveman also hunted for food, vastly different from sitting in your comfy minivan all the way to the supermarket
    • Today, our fiber intake is whoppingly low and our ratios of omega 3 vs omega 6 fats and potassium vs sodium are greatly different from caveman
  • Mixed/balanced diets combine plant and animal foods
    • For those of us who aren't already on some wacky gluten-free, sugar-free, low carb, low fat, high protein, paleo, miracle unicorn urine diet, this diet is one that contains familiar and accessible foods without any obnoxious dietary dogma
What did we learn? Eat food; mostly vegetables and fruits, portion control for grains, dairy and meat, enjoy sweets and treats... Don't over-think it, it's not rocket surgery. Seriously.

An amalgamation of popular diets. Adapted from: Can we say what diet is best for health? Annual Review of Public Health.    Vol 35: 83-103 D. Katz and S. Meller
Lastly, for another great read, check out the always-entertaining Associate Professor Tim Crowe's thoughts on this topic here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Choc-It-Up To Chocolate

Chocolate's been all the rage in the news lately. Finally! Something positive to read and write about. It's delicious, it has health benefits and better, it's got evidence to support them. We've hit the trifecta!

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans and contains protein, fat, iron, caffeine, antioxidants, sugar and a few other things. Certain compounds in chocolate are protective against illnesses like cancer and heart disease. And as if you needed more good news, but in case you did: There's no evidence linking chocolate consumption to acne.

Chocolate is high in flavonoids, in particular, 'catechins' and 'anthocyanins' which promote health due to their antioxidant, anti-hypertensive and anti-inflammatory effects. Those flavonoids/antioxidants also influence insulin sensitivity and vascular endothelial (heart tissue) function. See, I can write an article that doesn't bash antioxidants.

So what's the recent hype about? New findings show stomach bacteria 'eat' and ferment dark chocolate causing a release in anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds, when absorbed, benefit the heart by lessening the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue which reduces long-term risk of stroke. Basically, it's another reason not to hate on bacteria.

People worry about chocolate being 'fattening', which, I think, means they're worried about chocolate making them fat. It's true, chocolate is 30-45% fat, and we all know saturated fat increases blood cholesterol which is a factor in heart disease and other chronic illnesses. BUT, almost half the saturated fat in chocolate is stearic acid - a fat that doesn't appear to effect blood cholesterol levels. Not too flabby... I mean, shabby!

Back to chocolate being 'fattening', new research shows people who consumed higher amounts of chocolate actually had lower levels of central body fat, independent of diet and exercise. Some people may think that's counterintuative, but if the science says so, take it and run!

Another study, the largest and best controlled chocolate study that focuses on adolescents, demonstrated the above health effects in 1,500 12-17 year olds. The results were independent of age, sex, sexual maturation, physical activity and consumption of foods also high in catechins like tea, coffee, fruits and vegetables.

Yet another study found that in young adults, 8 grams/day of dark (70%) cocoa for 1 month improved their endothelial function, compared to those in the placebo group.

But wait, before we all run to the vending machine for a chocolate bar, too much of this good thing isn't great either. Not all chocolate is created equal: Dark chocolate is much higher in protective catechins compared to white chocolate (which, let's be honest, isn't really chocolate) and even milk chocolate. That's because dark chocolate has a higher concentration of cocoa solids (see Figure 1).
Fig 1: Comparison of chocolate type, antioxidant level and % cocoa.
Source: http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/dark_chocolate.htm

Following that line of logic, dark chocolate (>60% cocoa) is the best option antioxidant-wise (and, if you ask me, taste-wise too). After all, once you go black...

Something else to think about is cocoa powder. It tends to have a substantially lower sugar and fat content compared to bar chocolate.

Lastly, some tantilising tempered take home tips:
  • Chocolate (the dark and cocoa varieties) are rich in beneficial antioxidants
  • Chocolate is still high in fat/calories compared with fruit, vegetables, whole grains and tea that also boast opulent antioxidant levels
  • If you're making brownies, having a hot chocolate or adding some flavour to your smoothie, use straight cocoa powder rather than the sugared-up versions like Ovaltine, Swiss Miss and Nestle (not to name names or anything)
  • Don't write articles about chocolate... constantly thinking and reading about the stuff can't be good for your health

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Should BPA Be Canned... I mean 'Banned'?

It's another topic receiving catchy headlines. Avid lovers of all things conspiracy theory are, as usual, quick to jump on the bandwagon. This week's bandwagon: Bisphenol A. Sound familiar? BPA, the stuff found in hard plastics and epoxy can liners. I know it's not food, but it finds its way into the body via the pie hole route, thereby making it fair game. So let's discuss: Is this estrogen-mimicking monomer morphing us into menstruating mademoiselles?

BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics, used in the manufacture of medical supplies, phones, CDs and some food/beverage packaging like water bottles. Epoxy resins are used in the lacquer lining of canned foods (to prevent bacterial growth), bottle lids and water pipes. Some dental sealants and composites also contain BPA.

Many articles present BPA as being "toxic". However, pretty much anything can be toxic. The more appropriate question is "do typical doses of BPA present a risk to human health?" Another problem with the reporting of BPA exposure is many articles use the term "low dose". But that's a relative term.

Before BPA gender-bends our proverbial panties in a twist, it's probably pertinent to ponder this question: "are the BPA doses tested in 'low-dose' studies similar to what humans are typically exposed to?"

A new study found that 91-99% of studies claiming to test 'low-dose' exposure to BPA actually tested doses much higher than concentrations corresponding to true peak human exposure. Well, that in and of itself is a problem.

Another problem is many studies draw blood and test urine via plastic medical supplies. See where this is going? Even a BPA-free blood sample will become contaminated with BPA if the plastics used to obtain the sample contain BPA. New studies specifically testing for BPA use BPA-free plastics like polypropylene.

About 90% of BPA is ingested orally. BPA gets its bad wrap as an estrogen mimicking compound - meaning it can bind to estrogen receptors. Estradiol (a steroid hormone) binds 1:1 with estrogen receptors, translation: It binds perfectly. BPA on the other hand has a binding capacity of 1:10,000 meaning that every one in 10,000 BPA molecules are able to bind. Genistein, a soy isoflavone, has a binding capacity of 1:250, much higher than BPA. Genistein is even conveniently sold in supplement form and purported to reduce heart disease, breast and prostate cancer, and post-menopausal ailments.
 Still not convinced? BPA is almost entirely inactivated during digestion by your liver; that rather amazing organ, capable of detoxifying things like BPA. A glucose molecule is added to BPA in this process, preventing its ability to bind at estrogen receptor sites. Finally, BPA is excreted in urine or bile 5-7 hours after ingestion. Insert toilet joke here.

A study found that median and 95th percentile values of BPA intake in Americans, 0.1ug/kg/day and 0.4ug/kg/day respectively, were two to three orders of magnitude below health-based guidance values (50ug/kg/day). Again, showing that even those consuming high levels of BPA in the US population are well below the 'tolerable daily intake' of BPA.

In the general population, are levels of BPA sufficient to negatively impact health by way of interfering with estrogen binding? The evidence says no (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Take home points:
  • BPA is found in many products
  • BPA is often found in human urine
  • BPA being found in products and urine doesn't equate to BPA being toxic or dangerous for humans - human urine also contains water and electrolytes... just like Gatorade, think on that
  • BPA has a very, very weak affinity to bind with estrogen receptors (that is, until it's digested and gets that glucose molecule added and has zero affinity)