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Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. (2007) (michaelpollan.com)
214 points by mishkovski on Jan 26, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 179 comments



Some of the conclusions seem a little quacky here to me - like "avoid ingredients you can't pronounce" and a lot of "avoid processed anything".

While I'm sure there's some arguable benefits to these things, I think it's paranoid or stupid to dismiss something just for being "processed". What the heck does that mean anyway? All our food is processed in one form or another and nothing about something being more processed necessitates any loss.

Maybe I just have no sense for quality, but I've tried paying double for "organic" products and similar - only to be repeatedly disappointed with products that taste worse or equal and spoil quicker - I'll never buy them again, it just doesn't make sense to pay more for it.


>While I'm sure there's some arguable benefits to these things, I think it's paranoid or stupid to dismiss something just for being "processed". What the heck does that mean anyway?

It mostly means, "a whole industry of greedy scum that added all kinds of useless and often harmful crap to the food it sells to make it last longer -- and increase their margins--, be more addictive --and increase their margins--, be prettier looking --and increase it's margins--, be more sugary and/or salty --and increase their margins. People that will outright lie about what they sell you all the time [1]. People that would add melamine to infant milk if it made a profit and they could get away with it [2]. People that would sponsor fake science [3].

Unfortunately a lot of people are so naive as to think that corporations are basically ethical and would never do those things, or that if something involves technology (e.g. food chemistry) it is necessarily good, even if said technology is used against them to pad profits.

[1] https://priceonomics.com/the-truffle-oil-shuffle/ ("Despite the name, most truffle oil does not contain even trace amounts of truffle; it is olive oil mixed with 2,4-dithiapentane").

[2] https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/news-blog/why-is-melami...

[3] https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/12/the-food-industry-is...


>Unfortunately a lot of people are so naive as to think that corporations are basically ethical and would never do those things, or that if something involves technology (e.g. food chemistry) it is necessarily good, even if said technology is used against them to pad profits.

I've never actually seen people like this, in fact I've only seen people who are the exact opposite - and you seem to give off such vibe - where something is "evil by default" because it's not "natural/organic/whatever buzzword here".

You can get crap from your "organic local natural farmer", just from the top of my head a few years back here in EU people were dying from ecoli caused kidney failure because the organic farm manure contained the bacteria.

Corporations will do unethical things for money but individuals will not ? Who do you think spends more on quality control - people who shipping millions of units of something and have billions invested in capital to produce said thing or some random farm ? Who do you think gets more regulatory oversight ?

And about the biased sponsored science - so we just discard science and go for something because of how it feels ?

I mean I'm all for eating quality and fresh stuff if you can get it but the arguments like this are just nonsense paranoia.


>in fact I've only seen people who are the exact opposite - and you seem to give off such vibe - where something is "evil by default" because it's not "natural/organic/whatever buzzword here".

I don't speak for organic, Whole Foods etc BS. That's another racket. You can buy perfectly fine non-organic vegetables, meat, cheese in Walmart if you go and look for it.

But american popular mass produced food is of the worst standards compared to what people eat in Western Europe (and I presume Japan). And the food industry there is crappier than average. That said, it's pretty bad in Europe too: a packet of chips or some mass market ice-cream is the same shit everywhere.

>I mean I'm all for eating quality and fresh stuff if you can get it but the arguments like this are just nonsense paranoia.

What part of what I wrote looks like "paranoia" to you? That big manufactures like Nestle, etc. are greedy and would sell any kind of crap?

>Corporations will do unethical things for money but individuals will not ?

Individuals will too. But people don't buy much food from individuals, they buy it (most of it) from corporations. Plus individuals don't do mass production and the kind of food people buy from them (from some farmer's market for example) is not that amenable to adding all kinds of food chemistry crap.

So the distinction I made between individuals and corporations is not that individuals can't also be greedy, but that individuals don't manufacture mass produced food -- corporations do.

A piece of meat is a piece of meat (at worse it will be fed crap, given hormones). Vegetables the same. A bread bought on the supermarket on the other hand, can have all kinds of BS in, excessive sodium, tons of sugar, BS preservatives, etc. And there's all kinds of "microwave dishes" etc with the lowest quality of materials and tons of added flavorings, preservatives, things to give them specific texture, and other crap that doesn't occur or belong to a "Salisbury steak" for example.

>You can get crap from your "organic local natural farmer", just from the top of my head a few years back here in EU people were dying from ecoli caused kidney failure because the organic farm manure contained the bacteria.

Those things are orthogonal. You can also die from ecoli in food sold by large corporations, e.g:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/business/14nestle.html


>What part of what I wrote looks like "paranoia" to you? That big manufactures like Nestle, etc. are greedy and would sell any kind of crap?

Citing isolated instances in an industry that provides services to billions and saying you should be scared because of that is paranoia - on such a large scale you are guaranteed to have bad outcomes. Meanwhile most people eat processed food and are still walking around.

>excessive sodium, tons of sugar, BS preservatives

Preservatives have legally regulated ranges and there's nothing wrong with high sugar/salt if you're healthy and are within your calorie limit.

>Those things are orthogonal

Of course they are - that's kind of my point.


>Citing isolated instances in an industry that provides services to billions and saying you should be scared because of that is paranoia - on such a large scale you are guaranteed to have bad outcomes. Meanwhile most people eat processed food and are still walking around.

That would be relevant if I had said that they wouldn't be walking around (that they'd die immediately, etc.).

But what I said is that they are sold unhealthy crap to eat, not just openly but also misleadingly and covertly, because it makes production cheaper (not necessarily price, the margins are more often than not pocketed) and the product more addictive to consumers (more sugars, artificial coloring to entice the eye, etc).

Whether the industry "provides services to billions" is also irrelevant, as it is possible to sell crap to billions, or at least, millions. Billions consume corn syrup in all kinds of food stuff because it's cheaper than sugar and has all the subsidies, for example. It's still crap.

>there's nothing wrong with high sugar/salt if you're healthy and are within your calorie limit.

There's nothing wrong with anything if you don't eat it too. And yet a whole country, or half of it, is less than healthy, to the point of talking about an "obesity epidemic".


I just think the tone of your overall argument is too alarmist. I eat processed foods from time to time - cookies, potato chips, hot dogs, ice cream, McDonald's etc. They aren't in my regular diet but if the situation is right I'll eat it, I don't think they are unhealthy because my body can probably cope with whatever is unhealthy in them, just like I drink alcohol from time to time but I don't do it on a daily basis.

I don't think anyone is advertising cookies, potato chips or ice cream as healthy diet choices. McDonald's has some actually balanced things on their menus (from macro nutrient perspective) like their breakfast egg burger was ~25g of protein/carb/fat - but if you order 3 + 1/2 liter of cola and fries along with that then yeah it's not going to be good for you.


With regards to your first link, note that the resulting "truffle oil" is now dirt cheap. Those profits are not just taken by the producer but passed along to the consumer. And according to most of the article you linked, the taste works.

If so I see nothing wrong with it as long as it's listed on the ingredients. A lot of things aren't made exactly the way their name may make you think.

There's definitely some scummy stuff going on in the food industry, but I don't think a little fakery that saves the consumer money and creates a good flavor is that bad of a sin.


> There's definitely some scummy stuff going on in the food industry, but I don't think a little fakery that saves the consumer money and creates a good flavor is that bad of a sin.

I disagree. I think a label should accurately describe it's contents, plain and simple. I much prefer to decide for myself what is in my own best interest thank you very much.


The label does that though - the ingredients list. The title just doesn't.

The title on many foods isn't an accurate description of their contents though - wasabi is dyed horse raddish, crab meat is often mashed up and cleverly rebuilt pollock, most fruit juices aren't what they list, but still get to use the name juice because they're mostly apple or pear juice, most bacon bits aren't bacon at all - they're vegan even.

If you want to get an accurate picture of what's in a product, you always have to read the ingredients. The title is mostly just a vague description of its taste.


>The label does that though - the ingredients list. The title just doesn't.

The ingredients list is like the small print in contracts.

The title should also describe accurately what's inside, including any pictures on the packaging showing actual truffles etc.

And of course restaurants use the same "truffle oil" to serve $30 and $50 dishes with no "ingredients list" to tell you it's not actual truffle oil.


That is like saying "I'm going to lie to your face, but the government has forced me to admit the truth if you dig into it a little bit (Oh! and by the way, when I say a little bit, I mean "a lot")".

Just saying "That's the way it is", is not a good argument against "This is how it should be".


Couldn't have said better!


The idea here is following:

- Processing food, even in chemical ways does not necessarily mean it will be bad for your health.

- However, a lot of examples have shown that food that has been processed by the current realities of the food industry is often very bad for your health. Many times it's shown to be bad, many times they don't even check it.

- Basically if you process the food, the chances are very good that it is going to be bad. You have to be very careful when you do that (and back it with a lot of research) in order to do it safely.

- Food industry do not have a direct interest of doing it safely in the long run. They have an interest to make money and not get caught by existing regulations.

And finally: - For you as a consumer it's very hard to know whether specific processing is safe or not.

- Many times it's hard for the producer to even know. But they don't really care, as long as regulations are followed (sometimes not even that).

- This leads to you knowing that if the food has been processed, the chance is very good that it's bad for you. Not because "processing" is some weird satanic black magical non-christian sinful process. But because it's currently implemented in such a way that it lets through a lot of bad.

- There is no reliable way for you to distinguish between good processed and bad processed.

-> If you wanna eat healthy, in 2017 you should stay away from processed.


That's exactly it. His suggestion is a heuristic that is good 80% of the time. But if you can't check for the other 20% that the processing is bad, why not avoid?

Even if we follow his guidelines most of the time, fewer exceptions means fewer dietary risks.


People tend to conflate a lot of different things when they say food is "bad for you." Processed food of all varieties is definitely bad for your stomach. It usually has high sugar, high fat, and will generally contribute to heart issues if you aren't exercising enough. (Here there's a question of whether the food is bad for you, or it's not exercising that's bad for you. I'd lean on the latter rather than the former.)

Preservatives, etc. also may be bad for you, depending. But processed foods are just plain bad for your stomach. Your stomach is better off eating things that need some digesting. (Veggies, fruits, etc.)


> What the heck does that mean anyway? All our food is processed in one form or another and nothing about something being more processed necessitates any loss.

I hope it means something like:

Take a chicken and roast it, with potatoes and vegetables. Add some gravy.

Now take the same chicken. Remove most of the meat and sell it. Mechanically recover the rest of the meat, and form it into small popcorn size bites. Bread those, deep fry them, serve them with a sugar sauce.

The roast chicken is a good meal. It's healthy, it's slow to prepare and slow to eat.

The popcorn chicken? It's hyper-palatable. It's been engineered to be cheap to make, and to hit all the points of salt, fat, and sugar that humans seek out in food. It's not a satisfying meal because it lacks the fibre from the vegetables. And it's very easy to eat. It's a much worse choice, but it's a much easier, and more tempting, choice.

> products that taste worse or equal and spoil quicker

We see that (in the UK) with ketchup. People used to keep it, opened, in a cupboard and it would last for months. But now you're supposed to keep it in a fridge and use it within 8 weeks after you've opened it. The modern version has much less salt, and doesn't have sodium benzoate.


Huh. Ketchup bottles have always told you to keep them refrigerated as far back as I can remember (across decades, in the US and the UK) and I have always disobeyed. I have never, ever known ketchup to spoil. I just checked and none of the ketchup in the house now (several brands) have any "chemical" preservatives. But they do contain lots of vinegar. I am sure that the delivery mechanism of squeezy bottles helps prevent infection as well.


It's a shortcut driven by paranoid defense against the food industry habits to tweak or replace nutrients for economic reasons.

I had to cut anything but veggies for a while, and I have to say the lack of sugar and fat was pretty obvious. Processed food are like starring at the sun, it feels good because it's all bright, but you're blind to the world. Eating raw veggies makes you see all the subtleties of tastes and retriggers brain threshold you forgot long ago (sugar, salt, sauce they all make cover the nutrients, your brain just keep wanting to eat more, try eating 3 carrots in a row, you'll probably feel sick of it)


What you refer to aren't conclusions, they are heuristics. An awful lot of processing reduces the value of food, avoiding it in general is an easy heuristic that can help you eat better. Is it the only way? No, of course not - but it's easy.

Here is another one: If you are buying from a supermarket and it was shipped a significant distance, the quality is probably mediocre regardless of organic labeling etc.

This one is hard to do much about for most people. If food is out of season and/or shipped significant distances the quality almost always suffers quite a bit. We have made significant technological and breeding advances on the shelf life, ship-ability, consistency and color of a lot of fresh foods, but most of those advances have had costs as well - typically in flavor and/or nutritional value.

"Organic" labeling isn't very helpful for food quality or taste these days. It can tell you something about pesticides etc. that you might care about (e.g. what might be in the lemon skins you are zesting into your cookies). It's largely a marketing exercise.

Which isn't to say this is right or wrong, exactly, after all people vote with their dollars. However you have to be aware: you can have fresh tomatoes all year long but the reality is that you can probably only have really good tomatoes for a few weeks.

Somewhat depressingly because of wholesale distribution contracts etc., you may not even be able to get those really good tomatoes at your usual store when they are available. Nothing sadder than a bunch of bright red watery tasteless tomatoes being all that is on offer in the middle of your local tomato season.


Although I totally agree, per the op article

> but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed.

It might be an ok rule of thumb.

Highly processed food can of course be good for you, but mostly isn't.

It's bad science but a working stereotype.

Organic is of course a marketing gimmick and as per the article

> you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.


To me, the most plausible reason for no processed food advice, is that it's all new. Processed food hasn't been consumed for that long, and they keep changing the techniques, so individually, each technique didn't exist for that long. That means that you don't know if it's good, bad or neutral to your health.

Given that you don't need to eat processed and can easily feed yourself on unprocessed foods, a lot of people prefer the if its not broken don't fix it approach.

Now, in theory, nothing prevents a processed food from ending up being healthier then non processed, it's just people tend to believe that's the less likely gamble.


Yes I am inclined to agree. There are a few lines in what I read that shoot up red flags (I only read the first 25% and last 10%). However I agree with the overall advice.

I read somewhere that its best to avoid any food that is sold in packaging. I try to stick to that within reason.


Pollen gave a fascinating interview on Democracy Now! talking about how food companies began cleverly gaming the metrics, marketing smaller numbers of ingredients and real sugar (yes, sugar!) as though they were health claims. His new advice?

"Don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised."

https://www.democracynow.org/2009/5/14/omnivores_dilemma_aut...


Well, real sugar at least is better than the HFCS crap.


My personal rule of thumb with "processed" food is: Would I be happy to do the same process in my own kitchen if I had the time and equipment?


What's an example of a process done by the food industry that you would not be happy to do yourself if you could do it for free?


Not parent commenter but these are things I wouldn't want to do to my own food, even if I could.

- peroxide bleaching of flour https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flour_bleaching_agent

- acid-enzype process for HFCS: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_fructose_corn_syrup#Proce...

- de-oxygenation of orange juice for long term storage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_juice#Not_from_concentr...

(I'm sure these are nominally safe and possibly beneficial but I'd just rather not eat them)


I actually really like the deoxygenation of orange juice thing. The result tastes better than fresh squeezed, more of a sour taste that I prefer. Maybe it just amounts to dumping more citric acid in it or something, but it's delicious in any case.


Store bought orange juice does not taste better because of the deoxygenation. In fact, quite the opposite.

"Once the juice is squeezed and stored in gigantic vats, they start removing oxygen. Why? Because removing oxygen from the juice allows the liquid to keep for up to a year without spoiling. But! Removing that oxygen also removes the natural flavors of oranges. Yeah, it's all backwards. So in order to have OJ actually taste like oranges, drink companies hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that make perfumes for Dior, to create these "flavor packs" to make juice taste like, well, juice again."[1]

[1] - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/29/100-percent-orange-...


Well... taste is subjective, so yes, yes it does.

Basically, their flavor packs taste better to me than actual orange juice, something about the acidity I think is quite appealing to me.


My point was that it's the flavor packs that make it taste better, not the deoxygenation.

Deoxygenation alone, without the flavor packs, make it taste worse.


Anything done purely as a cost cutting measure would be a good start for a list of processes to avoid.


>Some of the conclusions seem a little quacky here to me - like "avoid ingredients you can't pronounce"

Indeed, quinoa and acai - two super foods before they became Whole Foods staples would have met this criteria.


I really hate the pronunciation test because it seems anti-intellectual. By all means, read the labels on your food and if something is unfamiliar, find out what it is and why it was added.


This usually results with going to wikipedia and then going "man, these preservatives are pretty cool shit" while I eat them.


"avoid ingredients you can't pronounce"

I would definitely avoid dihydrogen monoxide.


This is a great article, and should be widely read beyond that piece of succinct eating advice. For example, this is a great paragraph:

> In many cases, long familiarity between foods and their eaters leads to elaborate systems of communications up and down the food chain, so that a creature’s senses come to recognize foods as suitable by taste and smell and color, and our bodies learn what to do with these foods after they pass the test of the senses, producing in anticipation the chemicals necessary to break them down. Health depends on knowing how to read these biological signals: this smells spoiled; this looks ripe; that’s one good-looking cow. This is easier to do when a creature has long experience of a food, and much harder when a food has been designed expressly to deceive its senses — with artificial flavors, say, or synthetic sweeteners.

In fact, I recently read a book, The Dorito Effect which goes into this in much, much more detail, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. I bought it thinking it would be a light read, based on the title and cover, but it was more engaging, better researched, and more informative than I expected.


When I eat carbs, I put on weight. When I don't, I lose weight. However, other people I know are the opposite. Quite honestly, I think you can't generalise 'diets' or eating advice as, frankly, it would appear that different people's bodies work in slightly different ways. This could explain the vast array of different advice that, often times, seems contradictory.


>When I eat carbs, I put on weight. When I don't, I lose weight. However, other people I know are the opposite.

I doubt so.

If you stick to protein and vegetables with no carbs and sugars in general, you get lots of filling fiber, and fewer calories, unless they consume huge quantities of lard or bacon every day, or drink sugars (e.g. in juices or sodas), etc.

So those people are doing something wrong.


> vegetables with no carbs

Unless you're eating something that's (almost) 100% cellulose, that's not correct. Most plants have carbs


Hah, I didn't meant it as: "vegetables with no carbs", but "stick to protein and vegetables, with no carbs and sugars in general".

That is, no carby foods, carbs like pasta, bread, et al.

I painfully know how many carbs are in each vegetable (and net cars, minus fiber etc), as I've followed some low-carb diets.


Cellulose is a carbohydrate too.


Chemically I'm not sure, but it amounts to dietary fiber as it's not digestible by humans


From http://www.rsc.org/Education/Teachers/Resources/cfb/carbohyd...

> Carbohydrates (also called saccharides) are molecular compounds made from just three elements: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Monosaccharides (e.g. glucose) and disaccharides (e.g. sucrose) are relatively small molecules. They are often called sugars. Other carbohydrate molecules are very large (polysaccharides such as starch and cellulose).

I wish people would stop hating on "carbs" and redirect their disdain to sugars / small carbohydrates.


Fiber is carbohydrate also, but one that is not digestible by humans.


you aware that your brain needs carbs. even tho fat can be transformed it is also musle that is converted to carbs when you dont eat enough carbs


Glucogenic amino acids (13 of the approx. 18 main amino acids comprising protein) provide glucose and small carbohydrates when broken down. Point taken on 'enough carbs' though.


I can generalise diets pretty easy. Eat less calories than you burn and loose weight. Eat whatever you want if you can abide by this rule you will loose the weight. But to be healthy. Well you have to eat healthy to be healthy. And that means getting all the fat, carbs and protein your body needs. And what your body needs I agree you can't generalise.


> if you can abide by this rule you will loose the weight

This is the key point and it makes all the difference. You need to be able to stay on the diet for a sufficiently long time, and that's why different approaches are needed fro different people. If you eat carbs you need to measure carefully every meal and calculate the calories, which to many people very quickly gets extremely annoying. On low carb diets you don't have to. Also there are mood changes depending on the taste of the food that you eat. If you like eating meat and veggies, low-carb diets taste great, you enjoy every meal. It makes it much easier to abide the rules. Also general mental state is important, high stress and depression will sabotage your efforts.

Diets are not just about nutrition, that's one of the biggest misconceptions. Psychology and physical activities play equally, if not more important role in dieting.


> Diets are not just about nutrition, that's one of the biggest misconceptions. Psychology and physical activities play equally, if not more important role in dieting.

This. With the addition that psychology is hugely affected human bodys tendency to defend agains weight loss. One good recent paper on the subject how much weight loss increased hunger: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oby.21653/abstrac...


This is dangerous advice though.

Loose weight just by counting calories will not take in consideration toxicity (see my other comment in this thread). Many people burn fat this way, which release toxins they can't process. Hence their body is thin but saturated with poison. From here 2 things happens:

- the person gains weight again to protect him/herself. Happens very often.

- the person manage to not gain weight at this expense of his/her health, sometime with terrible consequences you only see months or years later.

One of my friends is currently in the later category. She lost a lot of weight and his very hot. But her skin is degrading at an alarming pace. It's a very bad symptom when your are 30.

All in all, it's important when you loose weight to:

- do it progressively so your body can process the toxins at the same rate they are released.

- help the body to eliminated say toxins by alternating rest and exercise, drinking and if needed, consuming.

- provide the body with a sane diet to not only avoid adding more toxins to the current ones, but also bring minerals than can be used to bring the PH up and vitamins to keep organs running smoothly.

Basically, "sleep well, eat well and exercise". Thank you grand ma :)


This post is unscientific and literally nonsense. There's no such thing as a "toxin" and reducing your adipose fat tissue does not poison your body.

It's precisely this sort of magical thinking that the OP is trying to counter.


I'm not a native english speaker, I don't know the proper world for this.

Some molecules are things that have nothing to do in the body (Maillard reaction output, antibiotic in the meat, pesticide in fruits, etc). Some are just regular things we can process but in a greater concentration that is healthy. Some are just natural waste of our regular body processes, but in a greater quantity than we can manage in our current health.

Basically nothing is a poison, it's a matter of quantity you absorb and can process. I just labeled it "toxin" because I don't have the vocabulary for it.

There is no magic thinking about it.

E.G: the blood PH must be at 7.40 PH. The body has mechanisms to ensure it stays that way. If the body is saturated with things bringing the PH down, it will try to get rid of it (through poop, urine and the like). I called them toxin, it was a bad choice. Fair enough. But the fact remains, if your blood PH goes down to 7.36, you are good for the hospital, and your body will try to avoid it. If it can't get rid of the responsible molecules, it will find a way to compensate. One way is to throw minerals at it since they are mostly basic. Another one is to dilute them by holding water. A last one is to wrap the molecule into fat, store it, so it can be processed later.

Again, no magic thinking. My wording may not be perfect, but I don't see anything unreasonable in what I'm saying.

However, I can't help but notice than 3 peoples opposed my explanation by blatantly rejecting it without arguments while I'm taking the time to respectfully demonstrate it. And give references to studies and books in another comment.

Please don't be aggressive. If you know I'm wrong, just make your point with arguments.


You should probably rephrase. I think I get what you are trying to say, but the way you said it is way off.

There most definitely are such things as "toxins". There are neurotoxins produced by black widows, most scorpions, box jellyfish, many algae and cyanobacteria, among others. There are necrotoxins produced by the brown recluse, rattlesnakes, puff adders for example.

Heck, if there were no such thing as toxins, the "Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases" would have long ago dropped "and Toxins" from its name to save costs on ink :-). The Toxin and Toxin-Target database [1] would also have about 3700 less entries if toxins did not exist.

[1] http://www.t3db.ca


Not really. If I was in an argument with a UFO theorist where I said the US government wasn't actually hiding live aliens, and someone came along and pointed out that we have illegal aliens in custody, I would point out that this is true and irrelevant.

The word toxin is widely used in "wellness" circles, but the concept so described does not exist. The fact that there is a correct, jargon-specific, scientific usage of the same term notwithstanding.


Wellness people also have weird beliefs about vitamins, and vitamins are in fact complicated, but that doesn't mean I make little air quotes every time I refer to vitamins.


Does this also apply to startup vitamins?

[0] https://www.startupvitamins.com


Fair enough, my wording was inappropriate.


No intention of arguing as I don't believe this is a good reason for not losing weight; I believe that for other reasons. However, just thought you would be interested in this. Check out some of the recent studies on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26469381

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27281542


This is true, but it ignores a lot of other things that are going on:

Absorption and digestion can greatly vary between humans. (A Common example are algae).

What kind of micro and macronutrients you eat will directly and indirectly affect your metabolism.

What you eat will affect your hunger.

Those and other complex interplays lead to things that are counterintuitive. For instance there recently was some study that drinking soda with artificial sweetener also leads to obesity, if I remember correctly.


> Eat less calories than you burn and loose weight.

This mantra annoys me, because it's like saying that to go to space, all you need to do is to burn rocket fuel and keep the nozzle pointed down (and then to the side).

It's technically true, but every single sane person know that it's true, and it doesn't really help you get to where you want.

It ignores how food affects motivation, digestion, metabolism etc. You can technically loose weight eating only sugar, but you'd find it impossibly hard due to the way the body is wired.

Generalizing to the obvious/trivial is not useful.


People keep repeating it because once you figure out your motivation and dial in a calorie goal that lets you lose weight without feeling like crap, it actually works. You're right that you can't ignore all that other stuff, but you also can't lose sight of the essential fact that you lose weight by eating fewer calories than you burn. The process of dieting requires you to perform tasks that support that goal.

It's a fundamental part of our physiology that we have to consume a certain quantity of macronutrients to support our metabolic processes. If we don't, then our bodies utilize existing stores of macronutrients like fat and muscles, breaking them down and converting them to usable energy to meet the deficit. This causes you to lose weight, as you drink water, metabolize your fat and muscle tissue, and then exhale carbon dioxide, and excrete waste products. You're literally breathing the weight out.

You find motivation so that there's something preventing you from stuffing your face with cake every day. Then you spend a few months iterating while you figure out what you can build a diet out of that will leave you sated and allow you to cut calories. This is where your metabolism, psychology, etc. come in. Once you have that dialed in, and you may arrive at it without counting calories if you're careful, then you will start losing weight.

Weight loss requires a lot of self-awareness and attention to what you enjoy or don't enjoy about a variety of foods. Somehow, through some series of test meals, you figure out that you really like raw bell peppers, but only with salt, or that the only thing trail mix is actually good for is making you hungrier(this is something I struggle with).


> dial in a calorie goal that lets you lose weight without feeling like crap, it actually works.

This greatly describes why so many people have a problem with the blanket statement "Eat less calories than you burn and lose weight.", because it implicitly contains the crux of the matter.

There is no such thing as a single, straightforward "calorie goal that lets you lose weight without feeling like crap". It varies wildly depending on the composition of your diet (which is even different from person to person) and accompanying factors like amount of physical excercise, sleep patterns etc.

And those are the deciding factors. The calorie deficit is a prerequisite, but the difficult part is in finding a way to sustain it. (I mean, you go there yourself in the following paragraphs.)

But the statement alone is borderline useless and actually quite condescending to anyone with a modicum of diet expierience. It's like saying "Answer enough questions correctly and you'll pass the test." Duh, No shit, sherlock.


I think the point is that in order to take in less calories than you burn, and stay vaguely healthy, you need to be aware of what you're eating, how your body processes it, and how to avoid the temptation to eat more. If you're not eating the right sorts of foods, then you're going to wind up hungry well before your next meal - which isn't conducive to an ongoing diet change.


Part of "that other stuff" is that the body do not burn or metabolize consistently when you change diet. For example, the body can go into a starving cycle which increase metabolism, lower energy usage, and make you less sated, and which reportedly takes a rather long time to recover from. It should not be that surprising that the human body has evolved to adapt when food availability change.


Perhaps, but if everyone around you was using molasses instead of rocket fuel and pointing their spaceships at the side of the mountain and then posting "I've tried everything I don't know why I'm not soaring in space yet" on Facebook you might start by reference to those basic principles.


I can't speak for anyone else but in my case, an excess of calories usually results in me being an awful lot hotter as my body burns off the extra energy. I'm not a biologist but I was under the impression that a release of insulin was required to store excess energy as fat? That would suggest it's more related to blood sugar spikes than actual energy consumed.


There are absolutely different ways bodies can handle excess calories, and it's pretty clearly documented.

For some people, their body will try to burn the extra calories - this in part may be due to the amount of brown fat, which is one of the mechanisms the body uses to generate heat. For others, their body will store as much energy as possible as fat, and they need to increase their activity level to compensate.

In addition, your body can become more efficient, using less energy based on the calories you consume. This is one reason that it can be very hard to keep weight off after you lose it.

Metabolism is an incredibly complex process, and while we understand a lot of the pieces, we do not yet have a full understanding of how those pieces fit together, and how to use that information to help people change their metabolism beyond more than very general advice (build muscle, be more active), and some things were sort of taken for granted - such as how it used to be thought that lactic acid was responsible for muscle soreness in the days after workouts, when more recent research has shown this isn't the case: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/16/health/nutrition/16run.htm....

Maybe in another 50 years we'll have people who can really understand this stuff.


Not exactly true. For the same amount of calories, the quality of food may or may not impact your weight. You can eat 4000 calories/day in banana and loose weight, but eat 2500 in cheese burger and gain.

I tested that on myself. The body does not blindnessly store excess in absorbed energy. It stores fat for many other reasons. One of them is to regulate the blood PH: if you saturate your organism with too much toxic food, you won't process it fast enough. To avoid crossing the unfamous 7.40 PH threshold, one strategy is to use fat to wrap toxic molecules and put them aside on your belly so you can deal with it later. Unfortunately with our current life style, this "later" never comes.


„You can eat 4000 calories/day in banana and loose weight, but eat 2500 in cheese burger and gain.“

This my friend, is not true. Not true in like...completely false.

(source: Bodybuilding for a long long time...dieting 6 months every year...bulking up the other 6 months of the year...been counting every calorie for years)


Again I tested it on myself. I tried so many diets it's not funny:

- full prot diet;

- mono-diet;

- fasting;

- raw food diet;

- veggie;

- vegan;

- classic 'balanced diet';

- body-building diet where you weight your chicken;

- and of course the good old "student-fast-food" diet.

I usually take blood samples before and after and graph my weight and IMC.


>Again I tested it on myself.

It doesn't matter, it's still not true. And there are tons of ways the measuring can go wrong or be misleading.


In the bottom comment I provided links to resources dealing with food toxicity. Part of them deal with toxicity and weight.

Would you provide the resources to counter examples ? It's only fair to have literature to compare the 2 point of views.


>In the bottom comment I provided links to resources dealing with food toxicity.

You just provided general resources about food and nutrition (based on the links I'm familiar with -- others could be pseudo-science). Give some specific excerpts about "toxins" and we can discuss them.

All food has side effects (e.g. too much sugar and diabetes, micro-allergies, cured meat and cancer, etc). This is not the same as some unspecified BS "toxins".

It also has nothing to do with "I eat less calories and I get fatter compared to eating more" which was the original claim we disputed -- which is absolutely incorrect.

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-detox-scam/

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/colon...

https://sciencebasedpharmacy.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/the-de...

http://firstwefeast.com/eat/2014/12/sorry-but-theres-no-such...

http://www.livescience.com/34845-detox-cleansing-facts-falla...

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-detox-scam-how-to-spot-...

http://skepdic.com/detox.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detoxification_(alternative_me...


> You just provided general resources about food and nutrition

Well of course, why would I not ? They include the knowledge I'm using right now.

However I can't help but notice you provide blog posts with opinions, not studies or books.

Again I agree that using the word "toxin" was not a good choice. I'm not a native English speaker, I don't know any proper term for "things the body can't process, and that harms it".

> I eat less calories and I get fatter compared to eating more

Yes it has. A calorie is always in a context. It's extracted it and from this context. During this process, molecules that can harm the body can enter it, or be produced in it. Since using fat to wrap molecules is one of the ways the body cope with it, it has an impact on it.

I'm not saying eating only banana is healthy, but it has few chances of triggering the late mechanism.


>Yes it has. A calorie is always in a context.

No, the context only applies to health. You will always lose weight if you eat less calories, period.

>During this process, molecules that can harm the body can enter it, or be produced in it. Since using fat to wrap molecules is one of the ways the body cope with it, it has an impact on it.

That's not what happens. There is no such procedure that uses fat to "cope with it". Some substances just get accumulated in fat, with no bearing as to wether you can lose that weight by eating less calories. That's a common pseudo-scientific misconception on the "detox" circles.


Example of a context:

- eat a little protein and lots of fructose from an apple from your garden;

- eat the same amount of calories as proteins + fat in industrial meat.

The second amount will create vastly more waste, such as urea, to be processed by the body. It will also require more energy to processed because the fructose is almost usable as-is. Because the second source of calories brings less minerals, it will also bring your PH down, forcing the body to deal with it. Because it's industrial meat, it will contains synthetic products such as antibiotic than will make your livers works a lot more and impact your digestive system flora.

But will not trigger the same insulin response.

Same amount of calories, very different context, and impact on the body.

Again, I notice a trend in those responses: you are just saying I'm wrong harshly but don't make demonstrations. If you know I'm wrong, please use arguments.


You're wrong because you provided a list of diets, but didn't provide how many calories you were eating on each one.

You're being deliberately obtuse and omitting half of the facts to suit your narrative.



I'd like to read more about this. Are there any sources/studies/articles of these mechanisms?


Some good starting point:

- The classic "Samson Wright's Applied Physiology, Thirteenth Edition". It's very broad, but a strong base is always nice : https://www.amazon.com/Wrights-Physiology-Thirteenth-Medicin...

- How not to die. A good balanced between scientific references and averge joe explanations: https://www.amazon.com/How-Not-Die-Discover-Scientifically/d...

- The China Study. Live study on millions of people to correlate quality of food and health instead of just quantity : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Study)

- "Constitution des organismes animaux et végétaux Causes des maladies qui les atteignent" is a fantastic complement but I don't know if it exists in english. Careful though, it has a controversial point of view on vaccines. Still worth it: https://www.amazon.fr/Constitution-organismes-bact%C3%A9rien...


Why is this true? Calories measure energy, not mass.

If I eat high calorie food, why does that cause me to retain more of the mass of that food in my body, compared to the same quantity of low calorie food?

This is a genuine question which I've never found a good answer for.

It would make much more sense to me if you said "Eat fewer kg of food than you excrete, and loose weight".


Your body stores excess energy as fat, or uses it to build muscle. The amount of food mass in your body at any given time is assumed to be constant in the long term, so when we talk about a person's weight changing we are generally referring to a change in their fat or muscle mass.

1kg of ice cream has a much greater potential to change your long-term mass than 1kg of broccoli because your body has the ability to extract more energy from it, and thus build more fat or muscle.


Your comment is absolutely spot on [1].

[1] http://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(15)01481-6


I see the article talking about a „interpersonal variability in post-meal glucose levels“.

But there is no mention of the parent-comments main point „When I eat carbs, I put on weight“ .... which might be an indirect effect of a higher blood glucose level (more hungry) ...but definitely not a direct effect.


The article isn't pay walled for once, I encourage you to read it, I consider it a ray of sunshine in the current darkness of nutritional science.

They use the post-prandial glucose response (PPGR) as a surrogate marker for how the body absorbs and metabolises food. Spikes in glucose levels after a meal are considered 'bad' as they cause large excursions in insulin secretion, and are associated with diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

They found a wide range of inter-personal variability in how particular foods affect blood glucose levels after a meal. Some people could eat a pizza for example, and the PPGR would hardly budge, whereas for others it would surge. The gut microbiome seemed to be important to this response. I believe the scientists have formed a company which plans to make personalised nutrition suggestions based on microbiome analysis, among other things.

See also here: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/11/a-personalized-diet...


Not sure if i fully understood you correctly, but yes, I feel a lot more hungry when eatinv more carbs. A good example of this is toast: no matter how many slices i eat, i'm never full. It actually makes me just want to eat more....


„when eating more carbs...toast“

You eat the wrong kind of carbs. The kind of carbs you eat have ZERO fiber...so of course you will be hungry. Eat a bowl of oatmeal (100g) with a banana and milk, add a little cinnamon, heat on the stove or in the microwave and you are set for the next 8 hours.


I so wish that were true. I experience crashes on a regular basis when eating such food. There is no way i can go more than 4-6 hours without eating, apart from sleeping. My crashes come quick and once almost lead to a blackout. I don't experience this eating high fat/protein food.


Thanks for this link! Really appreciated.


the only thing that matters for weight (barring some serious disorders) is the balance of energy. eat excessive calories and your body stores it as fat. eat too little and your body burns fat for energy. regarding carbs: they make about 50 pct of the average persons caloric intake and they really aren't filling (atleast simple carbs). so cutting them out usually means getting rid of s major source of calories and usually replacing it with something more filling.

lowering fats would work as well since itd lower overall calories.


Weirdly, I find increasing fat intake makes me lose weight faster. This is probably because it's hard to eat lots of fat, but easy to consume the equivalent calories through carbs (I'm looking at you Oreo milkshakes...)


I still don't understand this idea that is hard to eat a lot of fat.

Lean protein sure, there is a limit to the number of chicken breasts I can eat, but fat? Bacon, Cheese, Fatty meats. I can easily eat 1000-1500kcal in a single meal without feeling really full.

I eat 4-5 eggs with bacon with a bit of butter, being around 750kcals for breakfast and then by lunch time, want to eat a bunch again. I easily eat a pound of meat/baby ribs that go over 1000kcals easily (black iberian pig baby back ribs are more fat than anything else) and after a few hours I will be hungry.

I'm a small guy so 2000kcal is about the food I need to keep my weight and I work out a lot.


Obviously the "quality" of fat source can make a difference just like for carbs, getting them from broccoli or brown rice can be more filling than getting them from fries per calorie. Avocado's and nuts are obviously more filling than animal fats. For the most part, I think your body "craves" fats and eating them solves that craving. But this isn't the same as being "filling". I've also heard that the beginning of going on a high fat (ketogenic) diet is difficult, but your body adapts and fat tends to start filling you.

finally, peoples bodies vary and some are full with fewer fats or carbs than others.


"fat bombs" are something I never understood in low carb communities. It's not hard at all to eat fat without supplementing. I eat bacon, eggs, red meat, salad dressing, dairy, etc and get plenty of fat.


I don't get it either.

My favourite food is called "Secretos Porco Preto" (black iberian pig secrets) [1]

This is the most fatty meat I ever eaten. I eat up and iron skillet, I put the piece there, it renders so much fat that it then fries itself (not grilled/sauted, the fat renders, heats up and fries the meat). After I take the meat out I get about 1/2 cup of fat for about 1.5 pounds of meat. I honestly don't understand how people think this won't get me as fat as the Michellin man if I just ate what I wanted...

1: http://www.miguelemiguel.pt/images/spsimpleportfolio/secreto...


Hence my original comment about genetics playing a part of what we can and can't eat and wildly differing views on what it takes to lose weight.


I can eat anything and wont gain weight. It really seems like there is too much diversity in how we handle food inside our body.

The best diet is to try some things(experiment) and do whatever works best, not what feels best. Too many of these diets read like they are the most fun thing to do in the world. Also a lot of people have the tendency to get their goal and then stop the diet only to gain weight again (then dismiss the diet because it didn't work) And this gain shows how people can work differently inside. Some will not gain back the weight after a diet, others would need to diet for life.


This is not exactly true.

Yes, there is a big variance in the way people process food. But people also usually exhibits common characteristics:

- they don't eat that much on average. While they may sometime eat a lot, if you what the quantity during one week, you'll see they eat less than most people. - they eat slowly.

Those 2 things alone allow you to process a certain amount of unbalanced diet.

BTW, if anybody want to loose weight, the second one, eating slowing, on a table doing nothing else than eating, and chewing a lot, is a good starting point. You don't need to change your diet and you will loose quite some weight.

A 3rd thing is that indeed, somebody type will be able to eat a lot of things and not gain weight. But it's not a good thing.

Eating a bad diet will bring toxins in your body. The body usually process it with various organs. But if it can't because the amount is too important, it has 3 strategies:

- watering it down. Diluting toxins by holding a lot of water in the body. Typically the 4 pounds you take on Xmas. It's not fat, it's water.

- wrapping it in fat. Love handles are actually temporary storage for emergency that got a bit permanent. This is why people say it's the most toxic fat and the hardest to loose. Fat people fall into this category.

- using minerals to bring your blood PH up.

Thin people with a bad diet fall into this category. Now if you eat a lot of greens, you'll have the minerals to play this game and it's ok. But most people don't eat enough vegetable to allow that, so the body take minerals from various part of the body, including the bones. Instead of getting fat, you destroy your skeleton. It's not a good thing.


There are no such "toxins": https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/toxins-the-new-evil-humours...

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/05/detox-m...

If you eat bad stuff you'll just bring empty calories and some crappy additives and such.


Do you have a citation for your assertions - perhaps one with more specifics than unnamed "toxins"?


Again I'm not a native english speaker, "toxins" is just a generic world I used to try to convey "anything the body can't process right now, how that is destroy it".

"Some molecules are things that have nothing to do in the body (Maillard reaction output, antibiotic in the meat, pesticide in fruits, etc). Some are just regular things we can process but in a greater concentration that is healthy. Some are just natural waste of our regular body processes, but in a greater quantity than we can manage in our current health."

I gave references on studies in another comment.


But I eat lots more and am not gaining or losing weight. When I do nothing and stay home for a week I will eat even more and still not gain. Which is frustrating because my ideal weight would be 80kg, but I cant get much above 75.

It isn't high on my priority list so I have not tried many things. I just go around life and enjoy the food I want to enjoy, but my concious is there telling me "don't eat too much bad stuff, you want to stay healthy" Because even though I don't gain weight it is still bad to eat lots of fats etc.

So yes I do eat plenty of green, and other variations of things.

(also earlier I said "what feels good" I meant psychologically not physically)


This worked for me too, I could eat any amounts of anything and weight even less than normal. Then I realized (well, my gastroenterologist did) that my liver had a pretty common pathology all that time and it started to make harm. We quickly fixed that and now I have to choose what to eat, because gaining, say, 5kg in one week is a no-brainer now. This is the story of one specific issue with a human body, that has tens if not hundreds of them.


Its surprising how fast things can change.

If it ever changes for me I know ill have it hard because I eat a lot of snacks and delicious sandwiches.


Gary Taubes "What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" [1] is worth reading. Previously he wrote about bad science.

[1] https://nytimes.com/2002/07/07/magazine/what-if-it-s-all-bee...


Not much benefit in reading old stuff like that. Some of it has been validated, some not. Insulin as the great cause for fat gain hasn't really panned out. On the other hand now we've had some large studies that give an inkling that eating a lot of fat can be healthy for the heart and on the other hand replacing saturated fats with carbs(instead of unsaturated fats) is basically status quo.


Nutrition, as a field, is mostly quackery and bullshit. There's a reason the advice changes drastically every few years, and at any time there are 10 competing fad diets, each apparently supported by some number of reputable scientific authorities.

We do not have the predictive power at this time to make authoritative recommendations about what each and every person should eat, except for fairly straightforward things like "eat vitamin C or you will get scurvy".

Check again 50 years or so. Maybe by then you can walk into a medical clinic, get a DNA and gut ecosystem analysis, and walk out with a useful dietary recommendation.


I'm 42 and this is what the USDA has been saying all along with their food pyramids and four food groups and what have you. I think as a whole, nutritionists have always been on the same page, but those selling diets keep changing their opinions. Sure, there has been flip-flopping recently on fats and sugars, but the edict "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants" doesn't concern itself with those. I can't recall anyone ever promoting a diet with less vegetables (even the Atkins fad diet known for it's meat and dairy included vegetables) and make sure to overeat at every meal and I highly doubt either of those will ever be considered a good idea (provided the vegetables aren't tainted by radiation or chemicals or the diet's authors aren't overly politicizing GMO or some other arbitrary thing about production). Fad diets are all about selling supplements and books and are indeed snake oil. The problem is separating the wheat from the chaff and that's what this article is really about.


> I'm 42 and this is what the USDA has been saying all along with their food pyramids and four food groups and what have you.

You are not remembering correctly.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_USDA_nutrition_guid...

> I think as a whole, nutritionists have always been on the same page,

No, they certainly haven't. "Best practices" change all the time. This happened quite recently; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/06/1...

> but the edict "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants" doesn't concern itself with those

It also contradicts the recently popularized "keto" diet, which has roughly as much evidence behind it as any other popular dietary recommendation (i.e. not much).

Really the only things we can say authoritatively is "if you miss out on certain nutrients, you get sick". Beyond that, we're not really very sure.

> The problem is separating the wheat from the chaff

Your mistake is in thinking that there's a definitive difference. Almost ever piece of nutritional research available today has an extremely low predictive power. Where you draw the wheat/chaff line is more or less arbitrary. Even what should, ideally, be the most staunchly scientific food-related organizations, the FDA and FNS, change the recommendations all the time because they're not actually using hard science.


> It also contradicts the recently popularized "keto" diet, which has roughly as much evidence behind it as any other popular dietary recommendation (i.e. not much).

Keto recommends avoiding plants? I suppose you're right about fruit, but those are disallowed because of the sugar content, not because they're plant based.

EDIT: I suppose while I'm at it I should take exception with the notion "if there is no evidence, then therefore it is wrong" line of thought. Which you may note you didn't say explicitly, so then I would ask well what did you really mean. :)


Sorry, but what is hard science? I mean, models are suppose to change over time, at least if you're doing science right. Even physics models keep changing.

I'm not sure we can say that at any point in time the FDA recommendations were bad, but simply that as more and more knowledge is acquired, old models are showed not to fit the data as well, so we come up with new models that do.


I'm half your age and the USDA recommended grains as the plurality of your diet until nutrition stopped showing up in school.


"Authoritative recommendations" aren't the only thing we get out of science. In the absence of the ability to make them, science's job is to attempt to give us a best guess at what the most likely answer to a question is. In the 50 years between now and your hypothetical in which nutrition is "solved", advice like Pollan's is a good balance between simple and as effective as we can hope for at this pt.


> "Authoritative recommendations" aren't the only thing we get out of science.

I know, but when is the last time you saw a diet recommendation article of the form "Our Bayes factor on kale doing such and such is..."?

The only things 99.9% of people pay attention to (or know how to interpret) are authoritative-sounding recommendations, so that's what diet writers write.

> science's job is to attempt to give us a best guess at what the most likely answer to a question is.

No, I think you actually misunderstand what science can do for us here. Science can give us confidence intervals that let us maximize expected utility given what we know. We don't just assume that the most likely hypothesis is true.

> advice like Pollan's is a good balance between simple and as effective as we can hope for at this pt

Much of the advice in the article is too specific and based on weak evidence. For example, the suggestion not to eat much meat; there are huge amounts of research suggesting that eating mostly meat is a very good approach. I'm not going to claim this is true, because as I said, it's actually pretty weak evidence, but there's certainly no good justification to authoritatively claim the opposite.


> I know, but when is the last time you saw a diet recommendation article of the form "Our Bayes factor on kale doing such and such is..."? The only things 99.9% of people pay attention to (or know how to interpret) are authoritative-sounding recommendations, so that's what diet writers write.

Attacking writers (to no disagreement from me) is a pretty odd response to a defense of science's role in society. Science coverage is garbage, but that has approximately nothing to do with your point, nor my response to it.

> No, I think you actually misunderstand what science can do for us here. Science can give us confidence intervals that let us maximize expected utility given what we know. We don't just assume that the most likely hypothesis is true.

Oh for the love of God, this is a masterpiece of pedantry. You're mistaking "I assume everyone here is intelligent enough to understand what I'm getting at despite my lack of precision in a brief three-sentence comment" for "I don't understand what I'm talking about". Just because you don't fit the former statement doesn't mean I fit the latter.


> Science can give us confidence intervals that let us maximize expected utility given what we know.

Is this possible in the field of diet, considering the long timespan needed for experimentation, the numerous contributing factors, and the fact that study participants are very often not telling the truth?


> In the absence of the ability to make them, science's job is to attempt to give us a best guess at what the most likely answer to a question is.

I think it's a pretty important concept for people to keep in mind that if you're not verifying your guesses with experimentation, you're fundamentally not doing science.


I disagree. Doing science involves a mix of observation and experimentation. A lot of diet recommendations often do both. They've observed eating habits of healthy people over less healthy people, and then they've experimented by having a bunch of people try the diet, and after some years, they've observed again what was the effects.

Some diets don't do that. They're sometimes based on a type of "that makes sense" intuition, like, our ancestors used to eat mostly meat, so we should eat like them. Or, this substance is known to absorb toxins, so obviously eating it will clear your bloodstream of them. These I admit aren't scientific. Though often those intuitive catch phrases are thrown on top of scientific dietary ideas as a way to convince people to it and sell a bunch of books and products.


Unless the general public is doing it for you. People vastly underestimate how thorough some enthusiast communities are.


Sure, nutrition is littered with crackpot theories, voluntarily misleading research funded by corporations, smoke and mirrors, and so on. And if you only look at stuff that hits the news, then yes, things will change drastically every few years, probably forever. That's because people like sensationalism.

However, there are reasonable diets that don't make the news, for example the "Mediterranean Diet". While it doesn't come with any extraordinary claims, it seems to have endured with a good reputation from the onset (it was invented in the 70s and first gained popularity in the 90s) (also note that this article awkwardly mentions it in a way that seems to ignore most studies on it, but that's not the point). Look at the boring diets, that's where the good stuff is.


> for example the "Mediterranean Diet".

The irony here is delicious. You've gotten sucked into yet another evidence-free fad diet, but you're lecturing me on only listening to fad diets.

And no, it's not a matter of "only looking at stuff that hits the news"; the FDA and FNS, which should be following strong scientific principles, change their dietary recommendations and rules all the time, without particularly strong evidence for doing so.

> Look at the boring diets, that's where the good stuff is.

Do you make this claim based on strong evidence, or does this just sound like good Common Sense (tm) to you?


An evidence-free fad diet? We're looking at dozens (maybe hundreds) of research papers published over the past 40 years. Most of them are not based on conjectures but on clinical and dietary surveys looking at long-term health effects. Perhaps you think this is irrelevant because of selection bias, however, if a study found the diet had any relatively negative health effects, I'm pretty sure it would also get published. Of course, this can always turn into an unsolvable "faith in research" argument.

"Boring" diets, yes, because these long-term studies are necessary in order to convincingly support the idea that a diet is healthy, which necessarily implies that the diet is pretty old and probably won't hit the news all that much.

Finally, and as an edit, don't worry: I haven't gotten sucked into the diet that I'm using as an example. I don't follow or endorse it, in part because it relies too much on unsustainable fisheries.


> We're looking at dozens (maybe hundreds) of research papers published over the past 40 years.

And how many nutrition researchers and students do you think there are? How many do you think choose to do a study about a popular diet? Do you think everyone who fails to reject the null hypothesis with whatever mediocre p-value criteria their supervising professor decided on publishes their paper anyway? Do you think most journals would accept such a paper?

> however, if a study found the diet had any relatively negative health effects

That's the thing. Almost any semi-reasonable diet isn't going to kill you or make you horribly sick. Every dietary recommendation you find online will probably keep you alive and healthy. Then, by the nature of having lots of scientific papers and the way publishing works, you can find as many papers as you like claiming that your favorite dietary recommendation is slightly better than the other ones.


The Mediterranean diet has been linked to longer lifespans.

http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g6674

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15452459


> The Mediterranean diet has been linked to longer lifespans

Did you read anything I wrote? Every single fad diet in the world has multiple scientific papers showing how great it is. (p = 0.05. Nevermind that there were 1000 research projects about this fad diet that didn't get published because they didn't reject the null hypothesis, so who cares. Nevermind that nutrition scientists don't practice good behavior to mitigate the effect of the base rate fallacy on popular subjects.)

Almost no scientific fields practice enough discipline to have very high predictive power. Particle physics mitigates base-rate failures by having an extremely high confidence requirement (5 sigma). Even with absolute best practices, it's sometimes not enough. http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/04/28/the-control-group-is-ou...

Nutrition science is nowhere near best practices.


It's been a while since I've read Michael Pollan's book, An Omnivore's Dilemma, but if I am remembering correctly, there are several locations in the world where people live an abnormally long time, with good quality of life. Researchers went to those places and found out what people usually eat there. Then, comparing the diets of the different qualifying populations, the diet advice Pollan came up with to live a long healthy life was, "eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables."


> there are several locations in the world where people live an abnormally long time, with good quality of life

There are many equally likely explanations that don't involve whatever those people happen to be eating. Regional genetic tendencies, slightly elevated levels of background radiation leading to radiation hormesis, a social tendency towards exercise, etc. It could be all in their diet, but then again, we don't have any really good evidence that it is.


There's a pretty interesting npr program about this. The researcher visits "Blue Zones," areas where people live for abnormally long times, and finds that, if I recall correctly, long lifespans are correlated with strong social support networks, plant-and-fish-based diets, and consistent, low-intensity exercise.

http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/408023272/the-fou...


I think this is the primary criteria, do you care enough about your health to modify your diet even if the health benefits might be minute or null?

If you do, then some diets have better odds, like the Mediterranean diet.

It seems to me you don't care enough, or believe a random diet or one selected by the food industry will give you better odds.

Sure, diets are not miracle life extenders or cure for disease. At least none of the known diets have been able to confidently show they are. But a diet is not like sending someone to the moon where you need very close to 100% confidence in your technique. A diet just needs to beat the odds of your current diet. In that sense, most diets, even fad ones, probably beats the average American diet odds.


> except for fairly straightforward things like "eat vitamin C or you will get scurvy".

Even that's a myth, funnily enough. You don't need ascorbic acid per se, you just need.. ascorbate. With the acid we can synthesize the ascorbate our cells can work with. But we can also eat it directly pre-formed by other herbivores, contained in medium-rare meats or not-cremated-for-hours livers, or soft-boiled egg yolks etc.


Medicine, as a field, is mostly quackery and bullshit. There's a reason the advice changes drastically every few years, and at any time there are 10 competing treatments, each apparently supported by some number of reputable scientific authorities. We do not have the predictive power at this time to make authoritative recommendations about how each and every person should be treated, except for fairly straightforward things like "cut out a tumour". Check again 50 years or so. Maybe by then you can walk into a medical clinic, get a DNA and gut ecosystem analysis, and walk out with a new, synthetic digestive tract.

---------

To shit all over nutritionists because you don't understand the science or don't think the science is moving fast enough for your liking isn't helpful. Science is science. We scoff at the shamans of last centuries, and in a few centuries from now we'll be scoffed at too.


> To shit all over nutritionists because you don't understand the science

What makes you think A) that's my motivation or B) I don't understand the science? I'm not a nutritionist, but I'm well-versed in statistics and hypothesis testing, so I am at least equipped to make general observations about the predictive power of the field.

> or don't think the science is moving fast enough

When did I ever say anything to that effect? The hard biological sciences are moving extremely quickly, and soon nutrition will be subsumed into computational chemistry like the rest.

> Science is science.

And some fields of science have very low predictive power, like current nutrition. Do you really put psychology on the same ground as particle physics?

> We scoff at the shamans of last centuries, and in a few centuries from now we'll be scoffed at too.

This is pretty much exactly what I'm saying about nutritionists, but for some reason you appear to be mad at me about it.


Medical advice doesn't in fact change every few years. It's pretty steady actually.

Your analogy fails to make it's point in a comparison between nutrition science and medical science nutrition science comes out way way behind. If medical science did change as often as nutrition science and had as adverse an effect overall as nutrition science has had we'd probably all still be going to our local shaman instead.


For those interested: Nassim Taleb extends this kind of epistemological conservatism to other complex domains, such as economics, finance, religion and psychology.

"You would not have read this far into this article if your food culture were intact and healthy; you would simply eat the way your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents taught you to eat. The question is, Are we better off with these new authorities than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted? The answer by now should be clear."


Can you post a link to some of his work where he discusses those topics?


"When William Prout isolated the big three macronutrients, scientists figured they now understood food and what the body needs from it; when the vitamins were isolated a few decades later, scientists thought, O.K., now we really understand food and what the body needs to be healthy; today it’s the polyphenols and carotenoids that seem all-important. But who knows what the hell else is going on deep in the soul of a carrot?"

Ha, I'd love to hear what the soylent folks would say about this passage.


> today it’s the polyphenols and carotenoids that seem all-important

What a joke, the only thing that's known for sure about "polyphenols" (and practically all non-vitamin "antioxidants", that was the previous hype) is that a healthy human body rapidly excretes them, as well it should.

The rest is hype, speculation, and the everlasting quest for the next "superfood"..

Carotenoids, okay, anything that's in egg yolks gets my stamp of approval. Of course the much-loved beta-carotin is drastically useless and pales in comparison to any source of (nonsynthetic) preformed Vitamin A from non-carnivore sources.. (and who the heck eats carnivores!)


Carnivore meat you can eat: cat, crocodile, alligator. I'm sure there are others. Not very common in the west - if nothing else, herbivores and omnivores are easier to factory farm - but people do eat them.

What about fish? Tuna, salmon, shark - they all eat meat.


My bad, I meant mostly the carnivore livers but failed to spell this out properly


Come on. Who eats cats? Dogs yes, but cats?

Crocodile and alligator I can imagine that that's a thing.


Cat meat is popular in Asia, especially in Vietnam.


Anybody who eats shark or eats any other sea creature that eats fish.


True that! That last bit of my post was quite thoughtless


Nutrition, medicine, psychology are beset by empiricism: trying to find facts without having theories to support them. Journalists then make hay with the results, hinting at conclusions and advice for the public, using the authority of Science, but really bringing it into disrepute. An awful lot of research money has been wasted in this way and of course much of the work is not reproducible.


>> Nutrition, medicine, psychology are beset by empiricism: trying to find facts without having theories to support them.

Really? Seems to me there are a ton of theories but precious few facts.

Atkins, low carb, high carb, gluten free, etc. Theories everywhere. But science simply cannot tell us what foods to eat and what to avoid. It's very frustrating to me how limited our knowledge of the human body is.


i disagree. it really isn't hard to follow what science says. problem is there is a lot of money to be made peddling bullshit. it's a lot like finance where 99 pct of stuff out there is garbage but there does exist fundamental guiding principles that exist as fact.


If it's not so difficult to follow what science says, can you sum it up for us here?


The 'facts' that I referred to are the results of correlation studies as published in science journals. The diets you mention are mainstream fads.

You're right, though, it is frustrating! My personal opinion is that it is the way we use food for pleasure and comfort that it is to blame. We are literally getting high on what we eat, which is deleterious for health if performed without break for long periods. But there's no obvious way for a scientist to address this idea at present; it would be considered too subjective and thus ignored by the majority.


You can get high on carbs or alcohol sure enough. Try getting high on protein or fat though.

Telling carboholics they need to eat less food is like telling alcoholics they need to drink less liquid. It doesn't work - you've got to be more specific.


It's complicated. If I gave an obese person a bag of sugar or a kilo of lard she probably wouldn't enjoy these things. On the other hand some folk can eat luxury foods regularly without ill effect. It depends on personality and intent as much as upon specific foodstuffs and substances.

And are you sure about protein? Personally I experience a strong desire for meat if I haven't had any for a few days. The fulfillment of that desire creates a visceral pleasure. Furthermore I can't imagine giving up apparently innocuous items like tomatoes, either. For a few months perhaps but after a few years I'm sure I would pine at the memory of fresh juicy tomatoes.


If you go keto/atkins/etc for a while you get sick of meat. At least I have. It becomes tedious to eat and my portion sizes have dropped. I end up eating more vegetables than I ever did before, and take more pleasure from them.


There's certainly some combination of psychology and physiology at play here. There are many nutrients we need that we can't get without a suitably diverse diet, so we're hardwired to seek out variety. Even people who are starving or constantly on the edge will get tired of having a diet that doesn't include much variety.

My father loves to talk about how he can eat the same thing every day, but whenever I visit, he's very quick to suggest going out to eat. He obviously gets tired of eating the same thing over and over, but he doesn't want to deviate too much from his routine since it helps keep him from regaining weight.

I know I'm starting to crave a steak - it's been a few weeks, and normally I would have steak and potatoes on Sundays as a treat after an extra-long workout.


Yup, some folks can have the occasional drink or drink socially. Some folks need to swear off the stuff entirely. For carboholics, probably swearing off refined carbs would be enough.


> Try getting high on protein or fat though.

Just give me a really juicy steak and I'll show you how to do that.


Eat as much broccoli or wheat bread you want and you won't get high. Eat a fatty plate of ribs and you will.


fad - an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object's qualities; a craze.

synonyms: craze, vogue, trend, fashion, mode, enthusiasm, passion, obsession, mania, rage, compulsion, fixation, fetish, fancy, whim, fascination "when I was a kid, no fad was more apparent than the coonskin cap"

I disagree calling all diets fads, just because the theories haven't been definitely proven or disproven, if they are accurate at making predictions it suggests there's something to the theory does it not?


almost any diet works because it relies on totally avoiding a big source of calories. For instance, carbs. if you consume less calories than you burn, you lose weight. problem in my opinion is they use such a big brush to cut things out that people can be miserable while on them. if its the end of the day and you've eaten 700 less calories than you need and have gotten all the protein and fat you need then guess what. You can eat 200 calories of ice cream or chips if you want and still lose weight!


I don't disagree at all, I was complaining about referring to all diets as "fads", as if there is no evidence that some have substantial advantages over others, which varies per person to some degree. For example, on a low carb diet, my food cravings are miniscule.

The thinking "if you consume less calories than you burn, you lose weight" is also called into question every time I go through a cycle of this diet. It is most definitely not as simple as calories consumed(!) minus calories burned. If that was the case, I would be gaining a LOT of weight when I am not on this diet, yet I do not.


Tangentially related, to the fans of Fidel Castro: there's an interesting line of thinking that Cubans became healthy not because of Cuba's phenomenal health care system, but because they had to simplify their diet considerably in the wake of the Soviet Union's implosion. They had to eat homegrown veggies because they had no other choice.


I like the simplicity of the approach presented in this essay.

>And at the end of it all, the answer to the question "Can we say what diet is best for health?" and by health, we mean longevity, vitality, weight control. All the good stuff that we all want. The answer is absolutely no, if what we mean is a very specific, prescriptive — my diet can beat your diet. So, you know, can we say whether the best Mediterranean diet is better than the best vegan diet or that’s better than the best paleo diet for human health? The answer is no. If what we mean, though, by "Can we say what diet is best for health?" is a basic theme of optimal living. Then the answer is a categorical yes. It’s incredibly clear from incredibly voluminous, incredibly consistent literature all around the world, diverse populations, diverse methods, observational epidemiology where you just watch and see what happens. Intervention trials where you assign people to diets. Randomized control trials and real-world experience with large populations like The Blue Zones. And frankly Michael Pollan pretty much nailed this one. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. That really captures the essence of all of the world’s diets that are associated with good health outcomes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lW8C1W1Iefk


The first time I saw this quote was at our local Mod Market which has become our goto for a quick, healthyish meal. I wish there were more chains that shared a similar philosophy.


Looks like a lot of processed meat and cheese to me.


I read this book in 2007 when it came out and loosely followed its advice. It changed my life. I dropped 30 pounds, 2 shirt sizes and several inches off of my waist.

His "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." mantra is about the easiest diet to follow in the real world.


I remember reading this in the Sunday Magazine when it was first published. It has really stood up to the test of time.


To skip the boring wall of text scroll to the end and read the 9 points of advice (if you are interested).


Pollan's famous "maxim" manages to be condescending, unhelpful and inaccurate - all at the same time.

Eat food: duh

Not too much: again, thanks?

Mostly plants: Oh you mean like, sugars and starches - the most toxic constituents of the modern diet.

Pollan is the prototypical Bay-Area insufferable foodie. His documentary was a cringe-fest of pseudo-spiritual fawning.

Rene Girard talks about how food has become a new status symbol as people compete for bragging rights about how good they eat; Pollan is their patron saint.


Oh you mean like, sugars and starches - the most toxic constituents of the modern diet.

You jump pretty readily to a conclusion that isn't in what's said. "Plants" covers a diverse group of foods, some of which are the most nutrient rich available to us.

You can eat nothing but potatoes, which are filled with starch, but a diet filled with plants is much more likely to involve a rich variety of very healthy foods. Some of these foods would be things like spinach, kale, carrots, beetroot, beans, sweet potatoes, blueberries, apples, bananas, strawberries, buckwheat, avocados, courgettes, onions and peppers.

There's definitely starch and sugars in these, but you'd be hard pressed to eat them to anything like a toxic degree. To get them to a toxic degree, you'd need to eat processed food in quantity, which isn't what the maxim, which is undoubtably glib, is suggesting you do.

I agree with your comment about food being used as yet another status symbol, and I generally find that a particularly unpleasant and tiresome way to treat something as essential as eating. I'd disagree that Pollan is the patron saint of foodies, though. He's perhaps the patron saint of plant-eating, slightly ascetic or vegan foodies. He's certainly not the patron saint of the paleo or keto crowd, both of which are very vocal and often produce very obnoxious members of the "food as status symbol" group.

Out of interest, what would you recommend as a good, healthful diet? As you can probably guess from my reply, I think Pollan's maxim, which is certainly glib, offers a good working basis for a healthy diet.


> "Plants" covers a diverse group of foods, some of which are the most nutrient rich available to us.

That's some meme. Which ones exactly? The most nutrient-dense foods (per gram / per kcal) available to us are livers, other organs, eggs and ruminant meat --- even before accounting for the latters' vastly superior digestability and bio-availability, and even before accounting for the formers' countless antinutrients. Fresh not processed/salted/cured/etc. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpxqGa1PQc8

The widespread micro-nutrient-power fantasies about vegetation come mostly from back when they discovered ascorbic acid (aka "vitamin C") and how meat doesn't have it but plants do. Quite the feast for marketers! By the time they found out we don't need ascorbic acid per-se, just generally "a sufficient source of ascorbate" (which fresh meat is but preserved isn't --- hence the frequent scurvy back in the day with the 'limeys'/sailors/arctic explorers who insisted on their biscuits and canned meats rather than the game/fish around them), nobody cared for such pesky details..


At no point did I state that any of the foods you mentioned were nutrient poor -- I just said that some plants are among the most nutrient dense foods available. This can be true without dismissing other foods as nutrient poor. That even fits in with Pollan's maxim, which simply states most of the food you eat should be plants.

Since you asked, here are some nutrient rich plants from memory: kale, spinach, blueberries, garlic, lead, raspberries, asparagus, lentils.

All of these make great additions to any diet, aren't loaded with toxic levels of sugar and starch. They go great with liver, eggs, fish, or meat. I don't really understand where your hostility comes from, or why you simultaneously try to downplay the nutrients available in plants as some kind of conspiracy against other forms of food.


> I just said that some plants are among the most nutrient dense foods available.

To be honest, that's not what you said. You clearly stated that the most nutrient rich foods are plants, which is false.

> "Plants" covers a diverse group of foods, some of which are the most nutrient rich available to us.


"Plants" covers a diverse group of foods, some of which are the most nutrient rich available to us.

Yet the ones he recommends for us to eat -- grains -- are toxic and not suitable for human digestion.

He's perhaps the patron saint of plant-eating, slightly ascetic or vegan foodies.

Vegans are precisely the people who ascribe a lofty moral status to their dietary choices, in my observation.

He's certainly not the patron saint of the paleo or keto crowd, both of which are very vocal and often produce very obnoxious members of the "food as status symbol" group.

I don't share that experience; the discourse of paleo and keto, in my perception, is people seeking personal results in their health. Keto people may "brag" about the results they've gotten, but not their high moral status, like vegans, or how people who disagree with them are to blame for all the world's problems, like vegans.


You're wilfully misrepresenting Pollan's argument. He gives specific definitions of "food", "not too much", and "plants" that directly address your objections. And the fact that these recommendations are somewhat generic is exactly his point: don't listen to the latest fad specifying the exact relation of n-3 to n-6 fatty acids, but concentrate on heuristics that have remained unchanged for 60 years+.


> You're wilfully misrepresenting Pollan's argument.

I'm not. His argument is very simply that we should eat less meat and more grains. From TFA:

it might be wise to eat more plants and less meat.

most of the plants we have come to rely on are grains

Vegetarians are healthier than carnivores

All of this is garbage. Grains (eaten to the scale we do in the industrialized world, which is as the bulk of our calories) are poison. Yes, he does say a few things that are not false, such as "eating leaves is good". However I think you'd get better dietary advice by saying "eat things that begin with letter S".


do you really interpret "mostly plants" as "eat a lot of potatoes and raisins" ?

"Eat fruit and vegetables" has been the suggestion every doctor I've seen gives, and until now I assumed everyone interpreted that to also include leafy greens and legumes.


Depends on your interpretation of plants. Legumes do contain a fair share of protein.


But they don't contain a lot of the fats/acids that come from meat that are hard for the body to synthesize/metabolize. I'm not saying only eat meat/fish, but there's more than just protein.


I did not claim that legumes are some kind of wonder food with the ideal balance of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Of course you need to eat different kinds of vegetables/fruit/plants. As for fats, nuts are a good choice. But you can also buy all kinds of oils, if you are afraid that an all vegetable diet will leave you with too little of them. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_vegetable_oils




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