Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Component X is killing you

So what should you really worry about on your plate? Saturated fat? Trans fatty acids? Gluten? Sugar? Fructose? Or carbohydrates in general? Now, possibly more than any other time, self-proclaimed experts are in your ear telling you how bad a certain component of your diet is for your health. In fact, if you completely eliminate Component X you will avoid heart disease, cancer and in-growing toenails.

Component X is killing you
Then comes the big sell: Component X is killing you. Buy my book, come to my presentation and I will convince you of my argument. Please buy the T-shirts emblazoned with “Ban Component X” or “Fighting for a Component X-free planet” in three popular colours. We have kids’ sizes too.

If you want to be noticed in the nutrition “space” then you must tell a scary story, followed closely by the book, while engaging a rabid PR company. Right now, sugar is Component X, as it has been every decade since the 1950s. We will lose interest by the end of 2015, replacing it with another Component X, say caprylic fatty acid or amylopectin, because they are “chemicals” you haven’t heard of, therefore inherently scary (although you have been eating them since your introduction to solid food).

Don’t worry, sugar will return as Component X in October 2022. Promise.

One problem, one solution
Pop nutritionists, diet evangelists, simple solutionists just love to identify “the problem” (e.g. sugar) then preach “the solution” (ban, tax, eradicate “the problem”). It’s been that way for decades because it is an easy story to swallow, attracts the media who have no common sense filter system, befuddles politicians, and generates unease among those without an understanding of logic or biology.

If you want to become the radical nutrition preacher that attracts attention and media then stick with the single “problem” and the single “solution” so that the unthinking will become outraged and take to the streets.

The media particularly, and the populace in general, don’t have the capability to understand that the problem we really face is “crap eating” and the solution is ….. hold onto your hats, this is seriously outrageous …. “eat mainly plant foods, eat mainly least processed foods, have the occasional treat if you wish”.

Powerful message don’t you think? Yeah, you are right, it will garner no interest at all because it doesn’t identify a single evil, nasty Component X that will cause cancer, tooth decay and make you default on your mortgage.

Two words never used by the media, ever
There are two really key words, and I am being dead serious here, that the media never use when reporting on nutrition issues. They are two simple words that make ALL the difference. See if you can identify them in the following imaginary quote:

“A new scientific paper reports that eating too much of Component X is not good for your health”.

Yep, the two key words are “too much”. So, my advice is to avoid eating “too much” of anything. Is sugar a problem? Yes, for the person eating half a dozen donuts washed down with 2 litres of soft drink. No, for the person having some marmalade on their wholegrain toast. Why can’t we appreciate the words “too much” when assessing our eating habits? Just eat well. If you really want a “diet” to follow try the Mediterranean or the traditional Asian diet.

What does it all mean?
Simply put, it means I won’t ever be rich. That’s the sad part. But I will be comfortable in soul. It also means you won’t hear any really scary nutrition stories through this newsletter. And I apologise for not scaring you, generating fear and flogging a Component X-free cookbook. I just offer advice, ideas, tips and the occasional weird aspect in the world of nutrients.

And today, here is my advice: ignore all nutrition advice. Just eat well. And give to charity, hug the kids, help the frail, laugh at yourself, read widely, be generous and drink good wine. Sheesh! Don’t complicate life.

Can you eat yogurt on an empty stomach?

I received a question from Elaine Bo on yogurt:

I recently came across an article in the health section of the Chinese Singtao weekly newspaper regarding the negative impacts of eating yoghurt on an empty stomach. In a nutshell, the article talks about Taiwanese females often eating yoghurt instead of a proper meal as a way of weight loss. And the gastro doctor says that due to the acidic nature of yoghurt, it makes the empty stomach very acidic and is thought to damage the lining, like a stomach ulcer.

I quite enjoy my yoghurt, and will sometimes eat it with muesli, fruit and nuts for breakfast or snack. Being of Chinese decent, my mother often tells me not to do so because of the exact same reason as what was written in the article.

I did a quick Google search and found the apparent reason to avoid yoghurt on empty stomach is because the benefits of lactic acid is rendered ineffective due to the high acidity of stomach acid. I also tried to search for some peer-reviewed journals on PubMed and Medline, but there does not seem to be much done in this area. I was wondering if you could shed some light on this topic? Thank you.

Thanks Elaine. First, we need to know that the stomach lining is designed to handle acid because it naturally produces hydrochloric acid (pH of 1-1.5, strongly acidic) as part of the beginning of digestion. So, the pH of yogurt (being about 4.5, mildly acidic) will have little effect on stomach pH, meaning that yogurt won’t make the empty stomach “very acidic” because the stomach is always likely to be very acidic. Besides, stomach ulcers are commonly due to H. pylori bacteria, not from eating yogurt or any other food. There was a Nobel prize in that discovery.

Yogurt may contain some probiotics, in this case, lactic acid producing bacteria, usually declared on the label. Although, by law, there is a minimum number of probiotic bacteria in yogurt, not all of these bacteria will make it through the stomach and small intestine. However, many will and they then become part of the good bacteria in the large intestine. Probiotics are inactive at 5C in the fridge, but start performing at internal body temperature.

Probiotic bacteria have many potential health properties including quickly re-colonising the large intestine after diarrhea or antibiotic use. There is one caveat – like you, these bacteria need to be fed well, preferring the fibrous leftovers of fruit, vegetables and whole grain cereals. Which means eat well. You may have heard me say that before :-)