Here are several articles with some interesting information that you may find helpful.
Dean Ornish is wrong
Scientific American offers a critique of the ideas of Dr. Dean Ornish in Why Almost Everything Dean Ornish Says about Nutrition Is Wrong.
Dean Ornish, MD is a very bright guy. He is the founder and president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif. He is a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He received his medical training in internal medicine from the Baylor College of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts General Hospital. He received a BA in humanities summa cum laude from the University of Texas in Austin.
Ornish insists that a very low-fat, high-carb vegetarian diet is the best way to good health. The problem is, he cites low-quality studies and draws conclusions that aren’t quite supported by the available evidence. The article states:
“Ornish goes to argue that protein and saturated fat increase the risk of mortality and chronic disease. As evidence for these causal claims, he cites a handful of observational studies. He should know better. These types of studies—which might report that people who eat a lot of animal protein tend to develop higher rates of disease—“only look at association, not causation,” explains Christopher Gardner, a nutrition scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. They should not be used to make claims about cause and effect; doing so is considered by nutrition scientists to be “inappropriate” and “misleading.” The reason: People who eat a lot of animal protein often make other lifestyle choices that increase their disease risk, and although researchers try to make statistical adjustments to control for these ‘confounding variables,’ as they’re called, it’s a very imperfect science. Other large observational studies have found that diets high in fat and protein are not associated with disease and may even protect against it. The point is, it’s possible to cherry-pick observational studies to support almost any nutritional argument.”
“The recent multicenter PREDIMED trial also supports the notion that fat can be good rather than bad. It found that individuals assigned to eat high-fat (41 percent calories from fat), Mediterranean-style diets for nearly five years were about 30 percent less likely to experience serious heart-related problems compared with individuals who were told to avoid fat. (All groups consumed about the same amount of protein.) Protein, too, doesn’t look so evil when one considers the 2010 trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine that found individuals who had recently lost weight were more likely to keep it off if they ate more protein, along with the 2005 OmniHeart trial that reported individuals who substituted either protein or monounsaturated fat for some of their carbohydrates reduced their cardiovascular risk factors compared with individuals who did not.”
Also, regarding Dean Ornish’s research:
“So there’s little evidence to suggest that we need to avoid protein and fat. But what about the claims Ornish makes about the success of his own diet—do they hold up to scrutiny? Not exactly. His famous 1990 Lifestyle Heart trial involved a total of 48 patients with heart disease. Twenty-eight were assigned to his low-fat, plant-based diet and 20 were given usual cardiac care. After one year those following his diet were more likely to see a regression in their atherosclerosis.
But here’s the thing: The patients who followed his diet also quit smoking, started exercising and attended stress management training. The people in the control group were told to do none of these things. It’s hardly surprising that quitting smoking, exercising, reducing stress and dieting—when done together—improves heart health. But the fact that the participants were making all of these lifestyle changes means that we cannot make any inferences about the effect of the diet alone.
So when Ornish wrote in his op–ed that ‘for reversing disease, a whole-foods, plant-based diet seems to be necessary,’ he is incorrect. It’s possible that quitting smoking, exercising and stress management, without the dieting, would have had the same effect—but we don’t know; it’s also possible that his diet alone would not reverse heart disease symptoms. Again, we don’t know because his studies have not been designed in a way that can tell us anything about the effect of his diet alone. There’s also another issue to consider: Although Ornish emphasizes that his diet is low in fat and animal protein, it also eliminates refined carbohydrates. If his diet works—and again, we don’t know for sure that it does—is that because it reduces protein or fat or refined carbohydrates?”
I’m not paying a lot of attention to what Ornish says.
Exercise is more important than business
Why Exercising Is a Higher Priority Than My Business is an article in the Personal Health section of Entrepreneur magazine. The writer Joshua Steimle explains why he puts exercise above such things as client meetings. He says:
“I schedule my workouts during the workday and prioritize exercise over all my work activities. There is some flexibility, but if there is a conflict between a trail run I need to get in, and a meeting with a client, I’ll reschedule the client meeting first. I do this because I and my business can survive the consequences of rescheduling a client meeting, even if it means losing that client. But as soon as I start pushing workouts off, I’ll start missing workouts, and once I start missing workouts, I’m close to stopping workouts altogether.
Exercise must come first, or it’s unlikely to happen at all.
If exercise stops, then my health goes downhill. With the loss of physical health my productivity at work goes down. I become depressed. I lose motivation to do the things that makes my business successful. I’ve learned firsthand that excellence in one area of my life promotes excellence in all other areas of my life. Exercise is the easiest area of my life to control. It’s easy to measure. Either I get it in, or I don’t. When I do, it lifts up all other areas of my life, including my business.”
Avoiding pesticides in produce from Consumer Reports
To this point, I haven’t been fully convinced that organic produce is better for me. Though there’s a lot of fear-mongering and weird conspiracy theories around organic (and GMO) food, I haven’t found overwhelming evidence that organic produce is a) more nutritious or b) safer. An article in Consumer Reports has made me reconsider that stance.
Eat the Peach, Not the Pesticide recommends that we always buy organic whenever possible:
“Experts at Consumer Reports believe that organic is always the best choice because it is better for your health, the environment, and the people who grow our food. The risk from pesticides on conventional produce varies from very low to very high, depending on the type of produce and on the country where it’s grown. The differences can be dramatic. For instance, eating one serving of green beans from the U.S. is 200 times riskier than eating a serving of U.S.-grown broccoli.”
The article provides an interactive guide so you can see where various fruits and vegetables lie on the spectrum from high- to low-risk:
“If you want to minimize your pesticide exposure, see our risk guide. (Download our full scientific report, ‘From Crop to Table.’) We’ve placed fruits and vegetables into five risk categories—from very low to very high. In many cases there’s a conventional item with a pesticide risk as low as organic. Below, you’ll find our experts’ answers to the most pressing questions about how pesticides affect health and the environment. Together, this information will help you make the best choices for you and your family.
This short video from Consumer Reports summarizes their findings.
Gaining a competitive edge
I’m a fan of Alex Hutchinson’s Sweat Science colum in Runner’s World. Hutchinson is a former physicist, an award-winning science journalist and a runner. (Check out his bio.) He always does a good job of discussing the research that’s available on any number of fitness and sports related topics from training methods to diet to whatever else you can think of.
Recently he wrote Advice to a Young Athlete. The article started as a response to a cyclist who wrote to him asking for advice on getting to the elite level. Hutchinson insists first and foremost that talent and hard work are the essentials. Beyond that there are a galaxy of things (supplements, training methods, etc) that may or may not work.
In this piece he discusses the following:
- acidity buffers: baking soda, sodium citrate and beta-alinine
- beet-root juice
- recovery methods: massage, ice baths, compression garments, sleep
- nutrition: fruits/veggies (Eat more.), fat vs. carbs, “training low,” and hydration
- brain training
- race preparation: warm-up, taper, heat training
If you’re an endurance athlete or a trainer/coach the you should read the column.