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    Sunday, September 13, 2015

    Is Corporate Money Biasing "Science-Based" Health Experts?

      As an athlete and coach, I've always been reluctant to give stringent dietary advice. That said, there will always be a nutritional "expert" who claims to have discovered the secret to improving your health and well-being by making extreme dietary recommendations.

    Although the diet and weight-loss industry is booming, Americans continue to gain weight. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions. If the goal of dieting is for each of us to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, current strategies obviously aren't working.

    The latest conundrum in the world of nutrition and exercise science is the debate between the causes of obesity and possible remedies. This debate has been muddied by an influx of money from big food companies that are trying to buy the influence of experts in the field.

    In Chapter Nine of The Athlete's Way, titled The Nutrition Philosophy (link is external), I write,

        Experts are convinced that making the right dietary choices can improve health and protect us from certain diseases. Unfortunately, no one can seem to agree on what the exact choices should be for every circumstance. When it comes to what people should eat, there are lots of opinions and little certainty. Nutrition is a potentially confusing and often misunderstood field.

        Therefore, the nutrition perspective set forth in this chapter is: use common sense, eat intuitively, keep track of calories in/calories out, stay hydrated, and eat a variety of foods. You also want to avoid food fads. Don't make dietary choices based on newspaper headlines, and avoid making any foods taboo.

        Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and fish... and drink plenty of water. That's it in a nutshell. Food should be a source of joy, not neurosis.

    Although I wrote that over a decade ago, I stand by my advice. In a recent article in The Atlantic, "Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner Is Real Food (link is external)," Dr. David Katz (link is external) from Yale University's Prevention Research Center and his colleague Stephanie Meller summed up their research (link is external) saying, "A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention." I agree.
    Food Fads Will Come and Go

    The latest fad seems to be eating like a "caveman" on the Paleo diet. Unfortunately, claims on how our human ancestor's ate millions of years ago are dubious. In fact, a new study suggests that although animal protein created the building blocks for humans to develop larger brains, the ability to cook carbohydrates and the starch they yielded is now believed to have provided the glycogen energy needed to sustain our rapid brain growth.

    The August 2015 study, "The Importance of Dietary Carbohydrate in Human Evolution (link is external)," was published the Quarterly Review of Biology. The researchers—who appear to have no corporate ties—found that plant foods containing high quantities of starch were essential for the evolution of the human brain during the Pleistocene.

    In the new study, the researchers provide evidence that cooked starch, which is a source of preformed glucose, greatly increased energy availability to human tissues such as the brain, red blood cells, and the developing fetus. These new findings illustrate how complex and uncertain nutritional science can be as well as the importance of using common sense when making dietary decisions.
    Can Exercise Help Reduce the Obesity Epidemic?

    I am an advocate for avoiding sedentarism and staying active as being essential for psychological and physical well-being—not just to lose weight. There are infinite benefits to staying physically active throughout your lifespan that go beyond weight loss.

    In The Athlete's Way, I quote Brian Duscha (link is external) from Duke University who said, "Participants in our study received fitness benefits without losing any weight. Many people exercise to lose weight, and when that doesn't occur, they stop exercising. Remember, that you can improve cardiovascular fitness and reduce the risk of heart disease by exercising without losing weight."

    I believe that a combination of cutting calories and boosting your basal metabolic rate through various intensities of aerobic and strength training is the best way to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

    Ultimately, it's easier to cut 500 calories from your diet than it is to burn 500 calories through exercise. You'd have to walk or run about five miles a day to, or thirty-five miles a week, to lose one pound of fat. However, the combination of increasing caloric expenditure (calories out) and reducing caloric consumption (calories in) is the key to losing or maintaining weight. On p. 262 of The Athlete's Way, I write,

        Sugar in beverages is the main source of calories in the American diet, according to a recent Tufts study. The leading source of calories in the American diet used to be white bread. America is now drinking those calories instead, and it's making us obese . . . A 24-ounce fountain Coca-Cola has 280 calories.

        If you drank one 24-ounce Coke every day for a year, and did not adjust your energy expenditure, you would gain twenty-nine pounds. That would be almost a one-hundred-pound weight gain in three years. Be on the lookout for hidden sugar in beverages and pay attention to hidden calories in the beverages you drink.

    It's been almost a decade since I wrote that passage, and the debate about sugary drinks being linked to obesity rages on. This morning in the New York Times, there was a front page story titled, "Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets (link is external)."

    The article raises alarming concerns about the largest producer of sugary beverages in the world backing a new "science-based" campaign claiming that a lack of exericise— rather than consumption of empty calories—is at the root of the obesity epidemic. According to the New York Times, dietitians have also faced criticism for taking payments from Coca-Cola to present the company’s message that sugary beverages can be a healthy snack.

    A separate 2013 report, "Are America's Nutrition Professional's In the Pocket of Big Food? (link is external)" found that food industry dollars have infiltrated the nation’s top nutrition organization. This raises serious doubts about the organization's credibility.

    Oftentimes, the name of a non-profit and their affiliations can be misleading. For example, "The American Society for Nutrition and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics" has come under fire for having direct ties to big food companies such as Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, and Hershey Foods.

    Unfortunately, in response to claims by experts on the Coca-Cola payroll that daily physical activity and smaller portions of sugary beverages can offset the obesity epidemic, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. To rebuke the claims being made by experts being paid by Coca-Cola, there is now a push to say that exercise doesn't influence weight loss, which I think is nonsense.
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    This topic brought to you from psychologytoday.com
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