You probably don’t have gluten sensitivity – few actually do

gluten sensitivity

Although it may seem like I write only about the lies and ignorance of the antivaccination cult, I truly despise all kinds of pseudoscience. It’s just that refusing vaccines that prevent real diseases, based on antivaccine misinformation (OK, lies), relates directly to the health of real children everywhere. Most (but certainly not all) other pseudosciences are not that dangerous, just terribly annoying. The sudden onset of gluten sensitivity across the world is one of those annoying trends.

With respect to ridiculous health beliefs and fads, I declare 2014 to be the Year of Gluten. I swear that there is more popular discussion of gluten than organic food, though I suppose that organic, GMO-free, gluten-free food would be the next billion dollar idea.

Like avoiding carbohydrates, fats, GMOs, and whatever else, gluten free diets have some relationship to real science and medicine, but it has exploded into a fad that has far exceeded the real medical issues surrounding gluten sensitivity.

Continue reading “You probably don’t have gluten sensitivity – few actually do”

High fructose corn syrup – don’t be afraid, it’s just sugar

high fructose corn syrup

One of the most frustrating things I’ve observed in nearly six years of writing (here and in other locations), is that those who want to create a negative myth about a new technology (especially in food or medicine), one of the best ways to do it is mention “chemicals.” And if the chemical sounds unnatural, the assumption is that it is unsafe. The so-called Food Babe has made a lot of money endorsing a belief that all chemicals are evil, ignoring the fact that all life, the air, and water are made of chemicals. And so it is with high fructose corn syrup.

People have demonized monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive that makes people run away in terror if a Chinese restaurant doesn’t have a huge flashing sign in neon that says “NO MSG.” Of course, in just about every randomized study about MSG, researchers find no difference in the effects of MSG and non-MSG foods on a random population.

Another current satanic chemical is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has evolved into one of the the most “chemicals” of the food industry. Even the name sounds a bit chemical, unnatural, dangerous. But is it?

That’s where we need to look at the science, because the answers to the questions are quite complicated and quite simple.

Continue reading “High fructose corn syrup – don’t be afraid, it’s just sugar”

Paleolithic diet myth – what our ancestors ate

paleolithic diet myth

The paleolithic diet myth is the most recent in a long list of food and diet fads that have been debunked by skeptics for years. I’m sure there were paleolithic cavemen skeptics 20,000 years ago who grunted, “this diet sucks.” If they actually ate that diet.

Food fads are so enticing. Eat this to make your immune system strong. Don’t eat that because it causes cancer. But do eat this because it reduces your risk of cancer. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Drink this. Eat more of that.

My thoughts have always been that the human physiology is amazingly resilient, and as long as you have no chronic diseases nor chronic malnutrition, there is nothing one can do that will make the situation much better or much worse.

Yes, maintaining levels of certain nutrients, such as vitamins C and D, iron, and others, are critical, but in the modern world, it’s almost impossible to miss out on those micronutrients. Yes, we should limit fats and “sugars”. But the thing is human physiology is complex, so marathoners eat lots of carbohydrates, and they are mostly healthy. It all depends.

And then there’s cancer – it stokes our fears about foods. You’re not going to prevent or cure cancer with supplements (or presumably foods that are rich with those nutrients). Antioxidants don’t really help prevent cancerSoy won’t stop certain types of cancerNor will certain foods make you lose weight. There really are only a few ways to prevent cancer,

Most of these beliefs about foods, health and weight loss are based on either a boatload of anecdotal evidence, or use very preliminary laboratory research, make a leap of faith, and assume that laboratory evidence is equivalent to clinical evidence. Then, when the gold standard of research, a randomized clinical trial is done, the results generally show nothing. And in some cases, the negative effect is with the supplement or food.

And if you’re looking to try the newest diet craze, be aware that most fad diets just have no long-term successes, and may actually do harm. The newest one is based on the paleolithic diet myth.

Continue reading “Paleolithic diet myth – what our ancestors ate”

Science of organic food – are they healthier?

Organic foods have been increasingly popular these days moving from local co-ops and farmer’s markets to large retail chains that specialize in organic foods (such as Whole Foods) to general large retail chains who dedicate portions of their produce sections to organic produce. Even dairy and meat sections of most supermarket chains have sections that contain organic products.

But what is the underlying science of organic food whatever the source? Is it healthier? Is it worth the additional cost? Is there some indication that farm productivity is higher in organic farms?

It’s time for a skeptical look at the cost and benefits of organic foods.

Continue reading “Science of organic food – are they healthier?”

The Food Babe, high fructose corn syrup, and your beer

I know that 90% of my articles are about vaccines. I know that I’ve shown over and over again that vaccines are effective and about as safe as anything in medicine. And I know that vaccines don’t cause autism. Obviously, I never have to write another article about vaccines. Hah.

OK, it’s never going to happen.

So let’s talk about beer. Everyone loves beer. Maybe not everyone, but good beer can be really good.

The arrogantly named food blogger, Food Babe (real name–Vani Hari), who passes along anecdotes like they were real data, and who invents pseudoscience faster than a homeopath, has recently been on a warpath about beer ingredients. She’s gone after the breweries for adding GMO grains (who cares, they are safe), coloring, and that evil chemical, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). She never quite explains what she has against HFCS, but based on her amateurish and unscientific review of food ingredients, it’s obvious that she thinks that HFCS is an “evil chemical” and must not be consumed. If someone named it “extra sweet corn syrup,” it’s quite possible she would have ignored it.

I’m also offended by her referring to herself as the “Food Babe.” When “babe” is used as a self-descriptor by a woman, it negates any other characteristic that woman has. It implies that the important reason to listen to her drivel (and it would still be drivel) is because she’s attractive. “Babe” promulgates a sexist attitude, a perspective that needs to be changed. The “Food Babe” may have something important to say, but arrogantly referring to one’s self as “babe.” That’s offensive on so many levels.

beer-hfcs-chemical
GMO Dextrose? Seriously Food Lady? Dextrose is D-glucose, just the natural form of glucose everywhere on the planet. Wow, you really need to get into a real chemistry class sometime.

Give anything a chemical name, and panic ensues. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is nothing more than the precipitated salt of a simple amino acid, glutamic acid, which is one of the basic building blocks of every single protein in the body. Being sensitive or allergic to MSG is so ridiculous–you’d be allergic or sensitive to every single protein in your body then. It’s one of the dumbest food fads on the planet, and there are plenty from which to choose!

Let’s talk about HFCS and beer. Doesn’t really matter if it’s beer or soda or your favorite chocolate candy, but she went after beer. And like anything written by any pseudoscience pushing blowhard, I’m going to take down her junk science.

Continue reading “The Food Babe, high fructose corn syrup, and your beer”

Despite the meme on Facebook, bananas do not cure cancer

a-ripe-banana-a-day-keeps-cancer-infection-at-bay

This article was published on 29 July 2012, and has had over 70,000 views. This is the number one article I’ve ever written, I enjoyed writing it, but I never thought it would be such a big hit. It basically arose from a meme I saw on Facebook that claimed that bananas with dark spots had anti-cancer compounds in it. And it was all based on a misreading of a published article, a lack of knowledge about tumor necrosis factor, and a complete misunderstanding of human physiology and immunology. And this is my number 1 favorite, and number 1 most popular article for 2013.

 

Note: this article was rewritten and revised–please read and comment on the updated version of this article.

 

Last year, I wrote an article about how to critically analyze pseudoscience and misinformation to get at the scientific evidence which may help you accept or reject something you might read on the internet, even if it appeared to be accurate. On Facebook, Twitter and many internet sites (including Wikipedia), there is an amazing tendency of individuals to accept what is written as “the truth” without spending the effort to determine if what is written is based on accurate science. Twitter, of course, limits itself to 140 characters, which means you either have to click on a link to get more information, or just accept that the 140 characters are factual. And if you can make a complex scientific argument in 140 characters, I’m impressed.

Facebook is filled with false memes on just about everything from politics to medicine. The anti-vaccination crowd fills Facebook with their amusing and highly inaccurate memes. For more than a year, there have been dozens of  photos of bananas with a few words that some Japanese scientists claim that ripe bananas have high levels of “tumor necrosis factor“, so eat bananas to cure cancer and maintain a healthy immune system. Facebook is famous for these things, little pictures with a few words, no sources of the information, and broad conclusions. Eat bananas. Cure cancer. And people share them with a click of the button and move on to the next cute cat picture. It’s really the lazy person’s way of learning. Although who doesn’t enjoy the cute cat pictures? Continue reading “Despite the meme on Facebook, bananas do not cure cancer”

Organic foods–are they healthier? Are they worth the extra money?

Note: this article has been updated and re-published. Please view and comment there.

Organic foods have been increasingly popular these days moving from local co-ops and farmer’s markets to large retail chains that specialize in organic foods (such as Whole Foods) to general large retail chains who dedicate portions of their produce sections to organic produce. Even dairy and meat sections of most supermarket chains have sections that contain organic products.

So what are organic foods? They are usually crops, meat or other animal products (milk, cheese, honey) which have been produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, as well as genetic modification and certain preservation techniques such as food irradiation. Also the meats and animal products are produced without the use of antibiotics and growth hormones. Organic farming was pioneered in the early part of the 20th century based on the unproven idea that chemical pesticides and fertilizers supposedly had a negative effect on flavors and nutritional values of foods. Over the years, organic farming has grown into a huge business based on the supposed health and flavor benefits, but also on the the potential benefits that organic agriculture may have on the environmental impact of agricultural chemicals. In addition, there is a lot of concern about the persistence of pesticides on our food sources. Continue reading “Organic foods–are they healthier? Are they worth the extra money?”

Calorie restricted diets and the effect on aging

There has been a belief that has been promoted over the years that very low calorie diets can promote lifespan. It was based on a 1934 research study from Mary Crowell and Clive McCay, at Cornell University, who observed that laboratory rats fed a severely reduced calorie diet, while maintaining micronutrient levels, would result in lifespans of up to twice as long as control groups. Their findings were later repeated by Roy Walford, and his student Richard Weindruch, through a series of experiments with mice. In 1986, Weindruch reported that restricting the caloric intake of laboratory mice proportionally increased their life span compared to a group of mice with a normal diet. The calorie-restricted mice also maintained youthful appearances and activity levels longer and showed delays in age-related diseases. The results of the many experiments by Walford and Weindruch were summarized in their book, The Retardation of Aging and Disease by Dietary Restriction. Continue reading “Calorie restricted diets and the effect on aging”

Eggs and your arteries–yolk or no yolk

Here we go again. The popular press gets ahold of a scientific study, misinterprets it, and runs a scary story. Of course, it’s much worse if the scientific study published in a respected journal seems to also misinterpret the study. As I mentioned before, a true skeptic needs to critically analyze whatever is written in the press by going to the original study whenever possible; but what happens if that study requires some critical analysis? Well, I never said it was easy. If you want easy, denialism is really easy!

So back to the eggs. All across the news during the past week or so, you probably saw a story that eating egg yolks cause arteriosclerosis, a chronic condition in which an artery wall thickens as a result of the accumulation of fatty materials such as cholesterol. Some people may have already believed that anecdotally, but a new article published in AtherosclerosisEgg yolk consumption and carotid plaque, concluded that, 

Our findings suggest that regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease. This hypothesis should be tested in a prospective study with more detailed information about diet, and other possible confounders such as exercise and waist circumference. Continue reading “Eggs and your arteries–yolk or no yolk”

Eating like our great ape relatives

Lately, I’ve had some interesting conversations with my friend Cathy, who is an artist and designer, about a whole raft of topics in medicine and science. She proclaims she has no scientific background, but she’s intensely curious about science and about what I write, so what else could a blogger want? Recently, we were discussing what constituted a good diet. I was trying to cut through what was myth and what was science, but sometimes it can be difficult to do so. My thoughts have always been that the human physiology is amazingly resilient, and as long as you have no chronic diseases, there is nothing one can do that will make the situation much better or much worse. Yes, maintaining levels of certain nutrients, such as vitamins C and D, iron, and others, are critical, but in the modern world, it’s almost impossible to miss out on those micronutrients. Continue reading “Eating like our great ape relatives”