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You Don't Want Fries with That
June 25, 2011 8:20 AM   Subscribe

You Don't Want Fries With That. A new Harvard School of Public Health Study claims that even if calorie counts are the same per serving, eating servings of french fries or potatoes causes more weight gain over time than servings of nuts and yogurt. "Although calories remain crucial, some foods clearly cause people to put on more weight than others, perhaps because of their chemical makeup and how our bodies process them."

From the study: "During the 4-year period, participants gained an average of 3.35 lb ... On the basis of increased daily servings of individual dietary components, 4-year weight change was most strongly associated with the intake of potato chips (1.69 lb), potatoes (1.28 lb), sugar-sweetened beverages (1.00 lb), unprocessed red meats (0.95 lb), and processed meats (0.93 lb) and was inversely associated with the intake of vegetables (−0.22 lb), whole grains (−0.37 lb), fruits (−0.49 lb), nuts (−0.57 lb), and yogurt (−0.82 lb)."
posted by Ike_Arumba (118 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was planning on having yogurt (full-fat Fage FTW!) and blueberries for breakfast! And later, bacon jam for a snack. Salad for dinner, with some leftover salmon.

(When we started this low-carb thing in January, I thought I would really miss things like potatoes. And I do, kind of, especially when I've got all this lovely bacon fat left over from making the jam and nothing to fry in it, but it hasn't been anywhere near as hard as I thought it would. Well, except for the restaurant we went to a couple of months ago that had fries fried in duck fat. They are my kryptonite.)

The findings add to the growing body of evidence that getting heavier is not just a matter of “calories in, calories out,” and that the mantra: “Eat less and exercise more” is far too simplistic. Although calories remain crucial, some foods clearly cause people to put on more weight than others, perhaps because of their chemical makeup and how our bodies process them. This understanding may help explain the dizzying, often seemingly contradictory nutritional advice from one dietary study to the next.

Yup.
posted by rtha at 8:29 AM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I won't say I'll never eat french fries again, but I'm generally meh on them and find they don't fill me up. I'm not surprised by the science here at all, nor by the speculation that it has to do with fries being refined in a way that dumps them straight to blood sugar. All I know is that I don't find them filling and if they're particularly empty and weight-gain-inducing calories, that's one more reason to pass on them when I have a hamburger.
posted by immlass at 8:36 AM on June 25, 2011


Whenever someone on Ask spouts the "calories in/calories out" line, I want to punch something. As if the way the human body interacts with food could be reduced to a number on a box.

Related: my university passed a rule that all vending machines on campus could only sell healthy food and drinks. So they replaced Coke with Diet Coke and Lays with Baked Lays. Geniuses.
posted by auto-correct at 8:39 AM on June 25, 2011 [30 favorites]


The thing is, why didn't they put potatoes in with the other vegetables? Since that's where they'd properly belong. It's not like potatoes are the only starchy vegetable out there. Does this same logic thus apply to yuca or taro?

And when we think of what matters, potatoes are relatively low in calories and have nutritional benefits. Avoiding them because of the fear that they might cause weight gain is nearly as silly as avoiding carbs for fear of weight gain and ignorance to their benefits (in my opinion, of course).
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:40 AM on June 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


The article is a pretty concise summary, but I'd love to hear more from the authors. I heard the author on NPR talking some pretty causal inference. Residual confounding and differential misclassification are in there, and I don't see a real way around them.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:41 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This study shows that fat and thin people eat different foods, but correlation does not equal causation. Chips are bad because of their biochemical properties, not because fat people eat them. Just more excuse to demonize foods that are perfectly healthy if not drenched in rancid re-used 50 times high-inflammatory omega-6 soy/corn/canola oil, like potatoes.
posted by melissam at 8:45 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a big yogurt effect.

Does this same logic thus apply to yuca or taro?

Perhaps in places where people eat a lot of those. In the US, those just aren't consumed in the quantities sufficient to make a difference at the population level. (Though for particular immigrant groups, though, that could be a really important question.)
posted by Forktine at 8:47 AM on June 25, 2011


Geez, could I have added another "though" in there somewhere?
posted by Forktine at 8:47 AM on June 25, 2011


This study shows that fat and thin people eat different foods, but correlation does not equal causation
That's my concern. In the US, food choice is correlated with a lot of other lifestyle factors, and it seems like it would be challenging to correct for them. I mean, lots of people eat yogurt because they perceive it to be a healthy food and are concerned about their health, right?

It's still interesting, though.
posted by craichead at 8:48 AM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, I'm not saying that a particular individual might be more or less susceptible to the effects of eating some of these foods, but that's where the importance of figuring out what does and doesn't work for you is key. I feel like the whole "everything in moderation" is appropriate here. Varying one's diet and getting a wide variety of grains, protein sources, vegetables, and starches such that you aren't eating the same thing every single day or overloading on certain things multiple times a week. And minding calories and exercise.

Potatoes and meat didn't suddenly show up in the past say, 15 years, and make everybody fat.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:48 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm also a former low-carber and I can tell you since I started eating some roasted potatoes, I have definitely not gained weight like when I ate fries/chips/loaded baked potatoes. The nonsense that potatoes are teh evil as really a shame, since they are cheap and have many nutrients. A potato board member did an all-potato diet to protest the Women and Infant's Nutrition program dropping them and lost weight. WIC dropped them anyway.
posted by melissam at 8:49 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Geez, could I have added another "though" in there somewhere?

My comment is all department of redundancy department. I blame insufficient caffeine and the fries I had with my P. Terry burger last night.
posted by immlass at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2011


McDonalds Employee: May I take your order?
Obi-Wan: [with a small wave of his hand] He'll have the Sweet Chilli Seared Chicken Wrap, no mayo.
MDE: He'll have the Sweet Chilli Seared Chicken Wrap, no mayo.
Obi-Wan [to customer]: You don't want fries with that.
Customer: I don't want fries with that.
Obi-Wan [to employee]: He doesn't want to super-size his order.
MDE: He doesn't want to super-size his order.
Obi-Wan: Next, please.
Stormtrooper: Next, please!
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's my concern. In the US, food choice is correlated with a lot of other lifestyle factors, and it seems like it would be challenging to correct for them.

This is another important point, especially as produce prices skyrocket (it's $4 for a head of cauliflower these days and $3 for raspberries) and many people can't afford fresh food. So they will go order off of a fast food value menu.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2011


I always wonder about self-reporting data in dietary studies. For instance, are people who eat healthily more likely to self-report their diets accurately? How do you determine whether there's a bias there, and, if so, correct for it?
posted by gurple at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


BTW the "hunter-gatherer" cultures that "paleo diets" and low carbers often trot out as an example of healthy cultures are usually actually horticulturalists. My own research is on these people and they often get as much as 90% of their calories from starch. They DO NOT fry their starch. They have 0% obesity, their blood pressure is low, and other diseases of civilization are absent.

For example, the Kitavan study, on a Pacific population mostly reliant on yams/sweet potatoes.

Not horticulturalists, but the famed long-lived Okinawans traditionally got 70% of their calories from sweet potatoes!
posted by melissam at 8:56 AM on June 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


This is just proof that if there is a God, he's kind of a dick. "Oh, you're getting fries with that? That's 5 extra pounds. Oh, look you're diabetic. I'm sorry, that's just the way the system works."
posted by doctor_negative at 9:02 AM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Rtha: Bacon fat from making jam? I do not understand.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:11 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


FFF: It's because the jam is bacon jam. Which is made with a pound or so of bacon, onions, garlic, bourbon, smoked paprika, maple syrup, garlic, chile powder, coffee, and apple cider vinegar. Mmm-mmm good! Scoop it up on some celery, or smear it on some Cheddar. Or eat it with a spoon.
posted by rtha at 9:17 AM on June 25, 2011 [18 favorites]


The findings add to the growing body of evidence

I see what you did there.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:18 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


rtha: pull the other one, it's got bells on.

I don't understand that expression.


posted by five fresh fish at 9:24 AM on June 25, 2011


I'm also a former low-carber and I can tell you since I started eating some roasted potatoes, I have definitely not gained weight like when I ate fries/chips/loaded baked potatoes. The nonsense that potatoes are teh evil as really a shame, since they are cheap and have many nutrients. A potato board member did an all-potato diet to protest the Women and Infant's Nutrition program dropping them and lost weight. WIC dropped them anyway.

Wait.. what? WIC dropped potatoes? Are you serious? Potatoes are a staple food for many, especially the poor. Food Stamps still pays for potatoes. If it wasn't for potatoes, she probably wouldn't be able to eat everyday, unless it was Ramen - and, guess what, other than a little extra weight from being in a wheel chair, she's not fat from those potatoes.

Wow. Mind = blown.
posted by Malice at 9:25 AM on June 25, 2011


I love french fries. Love them.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:26 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


She=mother, sorry about that. Just still shocked they would pull out such a commonly used, nutritious root.
posted by Malice at 9:27 AM on June 25, 2011


I think most of us who say, "eat less, exercise more" know that it is overly simplistic, but given some of the diet advice that has been trotted out over the years, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick (or rickets or beriberi).

A 1.7 lb. weight gain over 4 years is well below my "whoop-dee-doo" threshold - trivial changes in behavior could loose you 1.7 lbs. in 4 years. If you assume 3500 calories = 1 pound, that's like a lifesaver every fourth day.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:28 AM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you look at the more detailed breakdown it's clear that baked potatoes are much less evil than French fries, they're just still on the wrong side of the balance. And if you're eating modestly and exercising, that may put them in the OK column for you.

But when I started eating to the glucose meter 5 years ago, the first foods to go completely off my diet were potatoes of all forms (1 small baked potato --> 220 mg/dl, ouch), rice, pasta, and bread. And without monitoring calories -- I ate as much of what the meter said was safe as I wanted -- I lost about 40 pounds in the next six months.
posted by localroger at 9:30 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


rtha: pull the other one, it's got bells on.

FFF - no, really! Recipe here (scroll down a little) - she brought it to the whisky meetup we had a few months ago. I've made it three or four times since then.
posted by rtha at 9:31 AM on June 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


But they're so delicious!!

Seriously, life's too short to worry about this crap. You're going to die anyway. Just cut the overall calories and eat what you want.
posted by delmoi at 9:32 AM on June 25, 2011


I have "cut overall calories" in the past and been hungry and cranky, and it was not sustainable. When I track carbs instead of calories - which go down as a byproduct of carb-tracking, but dropping calories is not the goal - I am not hungry or cranky and for six months, it's been easy to do. And I've lost 30 pounds and four inches off my waist. As with most things in life, YMMV.
posted by rtha at 9:35 AM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Eat less, exercise more" might be too simplistic, but the equally simplistic "eat lots, exercise not at all" will definitely kill you.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:36 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd cut out potatoes if I could, but they're the Food Of My People. Between potatoes and pasta I'm probably 50% starch by now.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:37 AM on June 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've got all this lovely bacon fat left over from making the jam and nothing to fry in it

Surely you can fry stuff like egg-battered cheese sticks (if you do not fear death) or apple slices or something.
posted by elizardbits at 9:38 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are many things in the realm of diet, nutrition, weight control, and health about which I am frankly unsure. There are many things of which I think science is still unsure.

Of one thing, however, I am utterly and completely certain, and that is:

That Bacon Jam recipe looks fucking awesome and I am going to make some this weekend.


Thanks for the link, rtha, and to marylynn for the original recipe!
posted by Kat Allison at 9:45 AM on June 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's interesting to me, as a vegetarian, that in the reactions I have read to this study people mostly seem to have totally fixated on the "fried potatoes make you gain weight" thing but seem to not be paying much attention to the "red meats and processed meats are almost as bad for weight gain as fast food French fries" thing.

Like, people are even patting themselves on the back in this thread for eating bacon instead of potatoes. Um, okay. (Not that I don't understand the internet's love affair with bacon -- even as a dedicated veggie, I'll freely admit that really good bacon is one of few things that I miss from my long-ago carnivorous days. But it sure as hell ain't a health food.)

It seems to me that the message to take from this study is not that we should all be eating low-carb diets, or even that we should all cut potatoes totally out of our diets, but instead that we should not be eating fried potatoes, red meat, or processed meats daily, and should be eating more vegetables, nuts and yogurt to replace those things.

As an aside, I am really curious to know what about yogurt makes it good for weight loss v. other dairy products (assuming the study authors are correct about it being causation v. correlation). Is it the probiotics, or something about the mix of sugar / fat / protein?
posted by BlueJae at 9:54 AM on June 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


melissasam and craichead, the study is not correlative, and actually doesn't show that fat and thin people eat differently. It showed that people who gain weight over time eat differently--everyone who started the study was of normal weight (average BMI < 25), and they followed them over 20 years.

The statistical techniques they used are not perfect, but they did adjust for other factors such as smoking, illness, alcohol, sleep and other dietary factors, which allow them to assess the independentassociation with particular foods or nutrients. No study can perfectly capture or assess what's going, on, but the methods of this study are very good, and the longstanding cohorts that they studied here (nurses and health professionals) have been shown (in other studies) to be participants who tend to report things fully and pretty accurately.
posted by gubenuj at 9:54 AM on June 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


melissasam and craichead, the study is not correlative, and actually doesn't show that fat and thin people eat differently. It showed that people who gain weight over time eat differently--everyone who started the study was of normal weight (average BMI < 25), and they followed them over 20 years.

I don't see how that makes it more valuable, though it does make it different. Look at how whole grain products and yogurt are marketed towards the health-conscious individual. It makes perfect sense that this is what people who don't gain weight eat. We need studies on these specific foods, not on people who happen to eat them.

Interestingly, if you look at the nutrition facts of most whole grain products and yogurt you will find most are filled with sugar and other crap.
posted by melissam at 10:00 AM on June 25, 2011


Holy fucking shit that bacon jam recipe looks just too good to be true.
posted by creasy boy at 10:02 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Reading the paper, it's interesting that butter was statistically associated with weight gain, but whole milk and cheese were not. More evidence that it was about the people and the kind of foods health-conscious people choose rather than about the foods themselves.
posted by melissam at 10:05 AM on June 25, 2011


From the paper: Yogurt consumption was also associated with less weight gain in all three cohorts. Potential mechanisms for these findings are unclear; intriguing evidence suggests that changes in colonic bacteria might influence weight gain. It is also possible that there is an unmeasured confounding factor that tracks with yogurt consumption (e.g., people who change their yogurt consumption may have other weight-influencing behaviors that were not measured by our instruments).

That evidence is indeed intriguing, but the evidence shows that bacteria in yogurt doesn't survive in the digestive tract because stomach acid kills them. The intriguing studies used coated capsules. In fact, there was a lawsuit about such yogurt claims and if you ate Activia you can claim some money. They have a bunch of data that makes no sense, so it must be fun trying to find studies that fit it though.

Maybe instead of blaming unmeasured confounding factors they should admit that the kind of people who are buying yogurt are the kind of people who don't nosh down fries.
posted by melissam at 10:21 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it possible that high-fiber foods just generally get pooped out faster than they can be fully digested (and thus all the calories absorbed)? And perhaps they push other things you ate out faster along the way?

(TMI: That certainly seems to be the way it works with *my* digestive system...)
posted by Jacqueline at 10:21 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I usually get a double cheeseburger, with onion, and a side of yougurt...now that is good eating.
posted by Postroad at 10:22 AM on June 25, 2011


Is it possible that high-fiber foods just generally get pooped out faster than they can be fully digested (and thus all the calories absorbed)? And perhaps they push other things you ate out faster along the way?

Yes, that's another problem with calories in, calories out. The level of caloric bioavailability of fibrous foods varies based on gut morphology and short-chain fatty acid producing gut bacteria (convert fiber to calories). Also, fiber affects satiety.
posted by melissam at 10:24 AM on June 25, 2011


Interestingly, if you look at the nutrition facts of most whole grain products and yogurt you will find most are filled with sugar and other crap.

I heard part of an interview on NPR the other day with one of the study's authors, and he was clear that the benefit from yogurt comes from the non-crap-filled kind - unsweetened, not the pudding-like "chocolate coconut" flavors. It's pretty easy to find unsweetened yogurt, with active cultures. Eating the crap yogurt is probably no more beneficial than eating pudding cups.
posted by rtha at 10:40 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am certain, based on gut intuition (punny!), the intestinal bacteria are the most significant factor in weight gain, not counting consumption of obviously unhealthy foods.

A sterile gut tract doesn't work well. A gut tract with the wrong bacteria will make you very ill, to the point that a poopectomy might be called for.

Only makes sense to me that gut bacteria are deeply influential on weight gain. And it wouldn't surprise me to learn that our crappy processed foods promote bad bacteria or harm good bacteria.

Yes, this is all conjecture pfma.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:40 AM on June 25, 2011


It is all a matter of what you do with the potato. I love baked potatoes, skin on, with a little salt, pepper, tabasco and chives. I don't bury it in butter, sour cream, and bacon. It is actually quite healthy. I think potatoes are getting a bad rap needlessly. Also, baked homemade fries are the bomb. They needn't be drowned in tallow to be yummy.
posted by Renoroc at 10:41 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's the interview (transcript + audio).

NORRIS: Now, Professor Willett, when I go to the grocery store and I look in the dairy aisle where they sell all that yogurt, a lot of it has a lot of sugar in it.

Prof. WILLETT: That's right, and I think it's better to stay with a natural yogurt without added sugar.

posted by rtha at 10:43 AM on June 25, 2011


I heard part of an interview on NPR the other day with one of the study's authors, and he was clear that the benefit from yogurt comes from the non-crap-filled kind - unsweetened, not the pudding-like "chocolate coconut" flavors. It's pretty easy to find unsweetened yogurt, with active cultures. Eating the crap yogurt is probably no more beneficial than eating pudding cups.

I wonder what percentage of yogurt consumed is the unsweetened kind? I don't think most of it is. It's often very hard for me to find plain yogurt.

Only makes sense to me that gut bacteria are deeply influential on weight gain. And it wouldn't surprise me to learn that our crappy processed foods promote bad bacteria or harm good bacteria.

Unfortunately the bacteria in yogurt almost never survives into the digestive tract because of stomach acid. Different types of fibers do affect bacteria populations. Most gut bacteria research these days uses either coated probiotic tablets or prebiotic fibers.
posted by melissam at 10:44 AM on June 25, 2011


It's often very hard for me to find plain yogurt.

Huh. Even my local Safeway has a bunch of fridge space devoted to plain yogurt. Most of it is low- or nonfat, but with the growing popularity of Greek and Greek-style yogurts like Fage, the full-fat is usually around, too. Which is extra-great, for us, because my partner's a vegetarian and a lot of American yogurts (certainly the pudding-like kind) are made with gelatin.
posted by rtha at 10:51 AM on June 25, 2011


Anecdote ahoy!

I lost 100 pounds on low-carb (which was more about my thinking about what I was eating and portion control, I think, than the actual low carb), and have kept it off for 7 years. But the really interesting thing is what happened to me last year.

I switched from artificial sweeteners in my tea and coffee, to stevia. And I started to make crock pot meals, from fresh ingredients, to portion out during the week for lunch vs. eating at a restaurant or buying already made food. Over a 6 week period I lost 1.5 inches off my hips and 1 inch off my waist. And did not drop a single pound.

I think we have so many chemicals and artificial ingredients being consumed (in our country/society) that there really is no way to have a study of any kind of diet and not have the results skewed. Our bodies are that screwed up.
posted by lootie777 at 10:53 AM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


A 1.7 lb. weight gain over 4 years is well below my "whoop-dee-doo" threshold - trivial changes in behavior could loose you 1.7 lbs. in 4 years. If you assume 3500 calories = 1 pound, that's like a lifesaver every fourth day.

Exactly. My weight varies at least a kilo a day. Hell, a one liter bottle of water is 2.2 lbs. Drink that and and I'm up 2.2 lbs, piss it out and I'm down again.

The potato thing isn't new. Potatoes have a higher glycemic index than other vegetables. So the insulin spike is practically the same as mainlining sugar. That potatoes have a different insulin response than a celery shouldn't be a surprise. And that over time, 100 calories of potatoes would contribute to weight gain more than 100 calories of celery isn't really news. Between this and the "cure" for diabetes, I'm hating the mainstream press' coverage of health more and more. Remind me again, is coffee good or bad for you this week?
posted by birdherder at 10:53 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


When people say "yogurt", I usually assume they mean plain, not-ridiculous yogurt. Now I wonder if this is a bad assumption...
posted by everichon at 10:54 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now I wonder if this is a bad assumption...
Yeah, I think it is. I think when most Americans say "yogurt," they're thinking the single-serving, fruit-flavored kind.
posted by craichead at 11:00 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


A simple thought experiment indicates the very, very narrow threshold of massive weight loss versus massive weight gain.

If the average person were to convert just 100 calories per day (say, 3 cookies) directly into fat rather than passing those calories through their system or burning it off metabolically, in a decade that person would weigh 100 pounds heavier (they'd gain just under 1 pound per month if 3300 kcal == 1lb of fat).

100 calories a day, stored or not means the difference of 100 pounds in a decade. I don't think many people can surely account for their behavior to the nearest 100 calories.

People who have a propensity for gaining weight already know it. People who have difficulty gaining weight also know it. And there's only one cure: lifestyle change. And it's going to be different for everyone.

The large majority of people generally metabolize drugs in approximately the same way. The variation in metabolizing food is immense, and statistical studies, I wager, will not provide the answer. Until there's a complete and highly detailed (i.e. not cheap or fast) means of mapping a person's entire metabolic system and based on that a very specific diet can be tailored to maximize their benefits, we're going to keep going around in circles where "fat's bad! no! carbs are bad! no! it's bad starches but other carbs are ok!"

The answer is for each person there is a proverbial "good diet" where they enjoy and are sated with every meal (barring something outlandish like Prader-Willi syndrome) and they will have a reasonable weight. Fat chance getting this kind of personalized attention from any professional unless you're rich.
posted by chimaera at 11:10 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've skim-read the original article, and I can't see that this research does disprove the "calories in/calories out" mantra. Surely all this shows is that the sort of people who make the dietary choice to eat potato chips are the sort of people who gain weight in the long term, when compared to people who regularly snack on 'healthy' yoghurts, etc.?

(I realise that nutritional labelling isn't necessarily accurate because we do digest things differently, but the evidence seems to show rather that we over-estimate the calories in healthy food, making them look less healthy, than under-estimate leading to people thinking they're eating fewer calories than they really are.)
posted by AFII at 11:11 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm also wondering if peanuts qualify as nuts for this study...
posted by jim in austin at 11:12 AM on June 25, 2011


I heard part of an interview on NPR the other day with one of the study's authors, and he was clear that the benefit from yogurt comes from the non-crap-filled kind - unsweetened, not the pudding-like "chocolate coconut" flavors.
He wasn't, actually. He said that you should eat that stuff. He didn't say a thing about whether that's what the people in the study ate. I bet it's probably not: my sense is that the natural stuff is expensive and tends to be a kind of luxury product.

The interview suggested that this doesn't refute the calories in/calories out explanation. It just provides a new explanation for why some people eat more calories than others. Some foods, the guy says, make you feel more sated for longer and therefore not to eat as much. Others, like potatoes, are quickly processed by your body and leave you feeling hungry again sooner. That sort of makes sense to me.
posted by craichead at 11:30 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dominant Metafilter reactions to peer-reviewed research:

- "That's ridiculous, anecdote... (perhaps followed by big pharma)"
- "Silly, researchers. Correlation isn't causation." *smug grin*
- "I am smarter than all of the PhDs that worked on this, the PhDs that participated in the peer-review process and the editors of the journal whose job it is to be experts in research design and the state-of-the-art research in a given field."
- "You can prove anything with statistics..."
- "Duh, this is so totally obvious to anyone with half a brain, I can't believe anyone is surprised."

I have stopped teaching undergrads in my methods courses the phrase "correlation isn't causation" simply because people hear this and think they're Karl Popper all of a sudden. The actual truth is "correlation isn't causation but causation is a special subset of correlation, meaning you can't have causation without correlation."
posted by proj at 11:35 AM on June 25, 2011 [38 favorites]


MeTa re:bacon jam
posted by theora55 at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2011


The thing is, proj, people reading peer reviewed journals already understand that correlation isn't causation. They get when a study is suggestive but not definitive. The media, on the other hand, usually loses the nuance. I'm pretty sure the people who did the research realize that correlation isn't causation and that there might be alternative explanations for the things they found. That's just not going to filter into the mainstream reporting of it. So what we get is "potatoes will kill you, and everyone go buy more yogurt!," rather than "this study raised this interesting possibility, which ought to be studied some more." And that's why we all feel so whipsawed by conflicting nutritional advice: it's a function of the media reporting suggestive findings as if they're definitive.
posted by craichead at 11:42 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


you can't have causation without correlation

Technically, you can, although it's rare. Just have a confounder that cancels out the causative effect.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:50 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the OP: "A new Harvard School of Public Health Study claims that even if calorie counts are the same per serving, eating servings of french fries or potatoes causes more weight gain over time than servings of nuts and yogurt."

I can't find any statement of this kind in the published paper. Unless I'm mistaken, they didn't measure total caloric intake at all. There's no suggestion that holding the rest of your diet constant and adding yogurt would reduce your weight. There's not even a suggestion that replacing 100 calories of potatoes with 100 calories of yogurt would reduce your weight, though the Post's coverage certainly suggests this. Rather, the authors write:

"Some foods — vegetables, nuts, fruits, and whole grains — were associated with less weight gain when consumption was actually increased. Obviously, such foods provide calories and cannot violate thermodynamic laws. Their inverse associations with weight gain suggest that the increase in their consumption reduced the intake of other foods to a greater (caloric) extent, decreasing the overall amount of energy consumed. Higher fiber content and slower digestion of these foods would augment satiety, and their increased consumption would also displace other, more highly processed foods in the diet, providing plausible biologic mechanisms whereby persons who eat more fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains would gain less weight over time."

In other words, their proposed mechanism is that yogurt / whole grains / veggies are filling and thus when you eat more of it you eat less of other food, so much less that your total caloric intake declines. I don't think this study is setting out to debunk "calories in / calories out" at all. Much more accurate to say it's trying to modify and complicate CI/CO, something like: "It's basically calories in / calories out, but not all calories are processed by all people in precisely the same way."
posted by escabeche at 12:01 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]



I'd cut out potatoes if I could, but they're the Food Of My People.


I don't know who you are stranger, but your people and my people share a deep and abiding bond. May the Spud be with You.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:06 PM on June 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Eat less, exercise more." is a very simple statement to make, but it is the best starting point there is and, yeah, the devil is in the details.

I am certain, based on gut intuition (punny!), the intestinal bacteria are the most significant factor in weight gain, not counting consumption of obviously unhealthy foods.

FFF, here you go:

You Are What You Absorb
From Pie Hole To ... (good article, sans the ridiculous title & pics)
The Truth About Gluten

That last one shows how the low carb diet may be getting traction with some people without knowing it.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:17 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


How on earth are they able to accurately measure what 100,000 people ate over a four-year period?
posted by straight at 12:23 PM on June 25, 2011


All we can do is draw inferences from data, and there is always the danger of confounders. That said, potatoes have always been an iffy proposition from what I have seen, based on numerous factors, including glycemic load etc. I have cited this study before on metafilter, and joked that potatoes are poison, but yeah, I personally eat them very rarely (helps that I hate the taste of most forms):

PMID: 18503250 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

"Differences in overall mortality in the elderly may be explained by diet.
González S, Huerta JM, Fernández S, Patterson AM, Lasheras C.
Source
Departamento de Biología Funcional, Area de Fisiología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Oviedo, Oviedo, Spain.
Abstract
BACKGROUND:
Although a relationship between diet and mortality is well recognized, there is little information on the extent to which different food sources contribute to survival in elderly people.

OBJECTIVE:
To examine the effect of individual food groups on mortality in institutionalized elderly people from Asturias (Northern Spain) after 6 years of follow-up.

METHOD:
The dietary intake of 288 elderly people aged 60-85 years was assessed using a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). Age, gender, energy intake, chewing ability, hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, physical activity, smoking habit, self-perceived health, education level and the institution from which participants were recruited were covariates in Cox regression models analyzing the effect of food on survival.

RESULTS:
Fruit intake was found to be inversely associated with overall mortality. Multivariate adjusted mortality rate ratio (95% CI) per 1 SD increase in fruit intake was 0.714 (0.519-0.981). On the contrary, each 1 SD of potato intake led to a 32% higher risk of death (RR (95% CI) = 1.319 (1.033-1.685)).

CONCLUSION:
A high intake of fruit late in life was associated with a longer survival. An inverse association between potato intake and survival was also observed, but further research is necessary before any firm conclusions about the possible harmful aspects of potato consumption can be drawn
."

A couple of things. Somebody mentioned "bbbbut sweet potatoes blah, blah, blabbity blah" - please stop immediately - sweet potatoes have nothing to do with the subject, their nutritional profile is completely different. Please note this study was based on FFQ - not my favorite, but pretty standard, and there is no reason to suppose that the recollection bias was in favor or against potatoes vs fruits or any food group. Also, note this paragraph, which I'll cite again:

"Age, gender, energy intake, chewing ability, hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, physical activity, smoking habit, self-perceived health, education level and the institution from which participants were recruited were covariates in Cox regression models analyzing the effect of food on survival."

I don't know about weight and potatoes. However, I have seen enough bad things about potatoes to avoid them - I eat a few spring potatoes a couple of times a year, at most. But rest assured, nothing will convince people who like a particular food, including potatoes. Trying to get people to change their dietary habits is an uphill battle - especially that the science of nutrition is in such an abysmally primitive state. In general, one study proves nothing, including the OP study. I think it's wiser to wait for a whole raft of studies before drawing any tentative conclusions, and by then we'll be dead anyhow. So I have no desire whatsoever to change anyone's diet. All we can do is present the information we found and people have to make up their own minds. For me, there is so much bad info on potatoes, that personally I eat them very, very rarely.
posted by VikingSword at 12:29 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


No offense, P.o.B., but I think I'm not going to be taking nutritional advice from something called "Testosterone Nation."
posted by craichead at 12:32 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can lead a horse to water...
posted by P.o.B. at 12:52 PM on June 25, 2011


Of course remember that calories in/calories out is still a big part of the problem for Americans. Morbidly obese people aren't morbidly obese just because they tend to eat more french fries than yoghurt. They're morbidly obese because they drink two 2-liters of Faygo a day; because they get thirds and fourths at Golden Corral; because lunch is at McDonald's and includes a 500-calorie walnut salad, a 700-calorie sandwich, 400-calorie french fries, and 300-calorie reservoir of cola.
posted by adoarns at 1:04 PM on June 25, 2011


T-Nation is actually pretty decent. Not all of their writers are good, but a large portion really know what they are talking about. It's pretty much the most respected website in the strength training / bodybuilding / powerlifting communities, which are of course very results-driven. Don't write it off just because of the name or the glistening examples of extreme hypertrophy that adorn the background.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 1:10 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


The thing is, proj, people reading peer reviewed journals already understand that correlation isn't causation. They get when a study is suggestive but not definitive. The media, on the other hand, usually loses the nuance.

Yeah, most headlines for this study are
"POTATOES MAKE YOU FAT!!!!"

here are a sample of them:
"To Keep Off Pounds: Pass The Nuts, Hold The Chips‎ "
"Hold the Spuds, Say Harvard Researchers‎ "
"A heavy finding about potatoes"
"Feeling fat? Blame all those potatoes"

I don't think the authors did anything to dispel the media's reporting of correlation equaling causation. The vast number of articles I read stated that eating these foods makes you fat.

If you read the study you'll find lots of grasping for biological explanations, which is mostly grasping since the findings are biologically implausible. They should have looked for social explanations.
posted by melissam at 1:11 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Proj: did you listen to the npr interview? He uses purely causation language. No mention of possible endogeneity. This is not some fine point in observational epi. If sander Greenland was here he would use this as a prime example of what observational data can't do.

Gubenuj: I feel you, but post Nurse's Health estrogen you have to appreciate the magnitude of the potential bias.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:15 PM on June 25, 2011


Today metafilter taught me there is such a thing as "Bacon Jam."

It's like I walked in on my parents, all over again.
posted by mecran01 at 1:16 PM on June 25, 2011


VikingSword, the paleo folks are against potatoes in general because of solanine and some other questionable antinutrients. However, most other vegetables, grains, and legumes contain similar compounds. It is an interesting avenue to research though. Anecdotally, some paleo folks report their arthritis symptoms decreased when eliminating solanine.

BTW here is the potato board's official statement:


“The researchers call into question the long-validated idea that the ultimate determinate of weight gain and weight loss is calories in and calories out,” says Dr. Katherine Beals, R.D., FACSM and a nutrition consultant to the United States Potato Board. “But the study says ‘Total energy intake … [was] not included as [a] covariable.’ This means calories weren’t included in the analyses. So it’s disingenuous for the researchers to say calories aren’t important because their study didn’t control for them.”

The following are scientifically validated facts about potatoes:

Potatoes are vegetables. In fact, they are one of the most naturally nutrient-dense vegetables available. One medium-size (5.3 ounce) skin-on potato contains just 110 calories per serving, has more potassium (620g) than a banana, provides almost half the daily value of vitamin C (45 percent), and contains no fat, sodium or cholesterol.

“Fresh potatoes are frequently victims of guilt by association,” says Tim O’Connor, CEO the United States Potato Board. “If you order a fully-loaded baked potato, the calories you should be worried about are coming from the toppings, not the potato.”

You can lose the weight, without losing the potatoes. Research released by the University of California, Davis and the National Center for Food Safety and Technology, Illinois Institute of Technology in October 2010 demonstrates that people can include potatoes in their diet and still lose weight.

“The results of this study confirm what health professionals and nutrition experts have said for years; when it comes to weight loss, it is not about eliminating a certain food or food groups, rather, it is reducing calories that count,” said lead researcher Dr. Britt Burton-Freeman, PhD, MS. “There is no evidence that potatoes, when prepared in a healthful manner, contribute to weight gain. In fact, we are seeing that they can be part of a weight loss program.”

posted by melissam at 1:18 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here is the autoimmune theory of potato badness by Dr. Loren Cordain, which I previous subscribed to before I added them back into my diet and nothing happened:


An additional nutritional property of potatoes that is rarely considered in regard to human health is their saponin content. Saponins derive their name from their ability to form "soap" like foams when mixed with water. Chemically, saponins are classified as either steroid glycosides or triterpenoid glycosides. A glycoside is any of a group of organic compounds occurring abundantly in plants that yield a sugar and one or more non-sugar substances upon hydrolysis (chemical decomposition in which a compound is split into other compounds by reacting with water). Steroid glycosides are commonly called glycoalkaloids.

Both categories of saponins are widely distributed throughout the plant kingdom including many cultivated crops. The primary function of saponins is to protect the plant from microbial and insect attack by dissolving cell membranes of these potential predators8. In mammals, including humans who consume saponin containing plants, these substances frequently create pores in the gut lining, thereby increasing intestinal permeability8-10. If they enter the bloodstream in sufficient concentrations, they cause hemolysis (destruction of the cell membrane) of red blood cells8-10.

Figure 1 shows how saponins disrupt cell membranes which may lead to a leaky gut. Saponins first bind cholesterol molecules in intestinal cell membranes due to the affinity of a saponin component (the aglycone moiety) for the membrane sterol (cholesterol)9. In the series of steps that follows, you can see how saponins cause portions of the cell membrane to buckle and eventually break free, forming a pore or a hole in the membrane.

posted by melissam at 1:21 PM on June 25, 2011


Are most paleo people against potatoes, really? It seems to me that almost none of the starches available to us in modern markets are particularly ancient, but to go totally without starch would be even less in line with our evolutionary heritage than eating tubers of species that would not have been accessible long ago. I know Robb Wolf isn't a big fan of them, but sweet potatoes are not old world plants either.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 1:21 PM on June 25, 2011


Are most paleo people against potatoes, really? It seems to me that almost none of the starches available to us in modern markets are particularly ancient, but to go totally without starch would be even less in line with our evolutionary heritage than eating tubers of species that would not have been accessible long ago

Yes, exactly, which is my own research now that I'm in grad school. There is ample evidence for paleolithic starch consumption and some of those starches were definitely more toxic than potatoes, though they went through a lengthly process to detoxify them. It's funny because he cites the Kitavan study so much, which was done on a population eating mostly starch!!

About starch by paleolithic starch grain analysis researcher Amanda Henry

Henry: Looking at plant micro-remains—tiny residue of plants—on the mineralized plaque of Neanderthal remains, it appears they were eating date fruits, starchy tubers, and wild relatives of barley. Not only were they eating them, they were cooking them too.

Yikes, this is cutting edge research and I guess Cordain & co. are just trying to ignore it.
posted by melissam at 1:26 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


That and the fact that we make a lot more amylase for digesting starch than apes do, indicating a non-insignificant level of adaptation to them as a source of energy.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 1:31 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's all well and good to advise people to eat nuts fruits and fresh vegetables, but it's not just about knowledge. It's about means. Giving people advise like this, can be almost cruel. What if they simply can't afford good food, and must resort to food that's energy dense, whatever the nutritional status? A lot of people consume junk food, simply because they can't afford "nuts, fruits and fresh vegetables". Potatoes are certainly cheap, relatively speaking. May as well blame people for being poor. Not surprising, obesity rates amongst the poor are much higher than among the wealthy - and this is now increasingly the case in poor developing countries.

And there's actually research showing this - at least in the European context:

PMID: 19762456 [PubMed - in process]

"Costs of Mediterranean and western dietary patterns in a Spanish cohort and their relationship with prospective weight change.

Lopez CN, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Sanchez-Villegas A, Alonso A, Pimenta AM, Bes-Rastrollo M.

BACKGROUND:
There is a scarcity of studies evaluating the relationship between food costs and adherence to different food patterns and obesity.

METHODS:
This was a dynamic cohort of Spanish university graduates (n = 17,197 for the cross-sectional baseline assessment and n = 11,195 for the prospective follow-up analyses). Mean age was 38.6 (SD 12.2) years, and 60% of participants were women. A 136-item food frequency questionnaire previously validated in Spain was used. Principal component analysis (PCA) was used to derive dietary patterns. Average cost of food was calculated from official Spanish government data. Self-reported weight was previously validated in the cohort. Body weight was assessed both at baseline and during follow-up.

RESULTS:
PCA identified two dietary patterns, designated as western and Mediterranean. Participants with the highest scores on the western dietary pattern (fifth quintile vs first quintile) spent less money (-0.64 euro (-$0.80) per 1000 kcal (95% CI -0.68 euro to -0.61 euro, p for trend <0.001)) on their daily food costs, whereas the opposite was true for the Mediterranean dietary pattern (+0.71 euro (+$0.90) (95% CI +0.67 euro to +0.74 euro, p for trend <0.001). After adjusting for dietary pattern scores and other potential confounders, higher daily food costs were significantly associated with greater weight gain.

CONCLUSIONS:
These data suggest that a Mediterranean dietary pattern is more expensive to follow than a western dietary pattern. This economic barrier should be considered when counselling patients about following a healthy diet because cost may be a prohibitive factor."
posted by VikingSword at 1:45 PM on June 25, 2011


Also, I would like to point out, that the OP study is hardly unique wrt. potatoes. The association of potatoes and weight has been made before, for example here:

PMID: 19631041 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

"Dietary predictors of 5-year changes in waist circumference.
Halkjaer J, Tjønneland A, Overvad K, Sørensen TI.
Source
Danish Cancer Society Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Strandboulevarden 49, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark. jytteh@cancer.dk
Abstract
BACKGROUND:
Previous studies on the association between macronutrient intake and the development of abdominal obesity, which carries an increased health risk, have not shown a consistent pattern, possibly due to mixed effects of other aspects of the food intake.

OBJECTIVE:
This study investigated the association between intake from 21 food and beverage groups and the subsequent 5-year difference in waist circumference.

METHODS:
The study population consisted of 22,570 women and 20,126 men, aged 50 to 64 years at baseline, with complete data on baseline and follow-up waist circumference, baseline diet (192 items food frequency questionnaire), body mass index, and selected potential confounders (eg, smoking status, sport activities, and intake of alcoholic beverages). Multiple linear regression analyses were performed.

RESULTS:
For women, 5-year difference in waist circumference was inversely related to intake from red meat, vegetables, fruit, butter, and high-fat dairy products, whereas intake from potatoes, processed meat, poultry, and snack foods was positively associated. For men, red meat and fruit intakes were inversely associated with 5-year difference in waist circumference, whereas snack foods intake was positively associated. Sex differences occurred for vegetables, high-fat dairy products, and processed meat.

CONCLUSIONS:
The results suggest that a diet low in fruits and red meat and high in snack foods was associated with larger waist circumference gains in both sexes. Furthermore, in women a diet low in vegetables, butter, and high-fat dairy products, and high in poultry, potatoes, and processed meat were likely determinants of subsequent gain at the waist."

This is the danger of these studies - there are so many factors, it's hard to disentangle them all. It's simplistic to isolate one element and make sweeping pronouncements. Potatoes in small quantities are not going to kill you.
posted by VikingSword at 2:01 PM on June 25, 2011


The NHS has a website where they evaluate media coverage of medical studies. It's a great site.

Here's their take on this one:

Diet, lifestyle and long-term weight gain

From their introductory summary (emphasis mine):

" the study ... does not show that specific foods such as nuts will actually make you lose weight, regardless of calories consumed, as the study did not measure calories."

From their concluding summary (emphasis mine):

"The calorie content of foods was not measured in this study, but estimated from average portion sizes and the results of the dietary questionnaire. The researchers acknowledge this is not an accurate way of estimating total energy intake."
gurple: I always wonder about self-reporting data in dietary studies. For instance, are people who eat healthily more likely to self-report their diets accurately? How do you determine whether there's a bias there, and, if so, correct for it?

Dietary questionnaires are highly imperfect means of gathering data. Michael Pollan talks about dietary questionnaires used in medical research in In Defense of Food (link goes right to the page I'm quoting).

He filled out the Women's Health Initiative questionnaire himself. It starts with pretty easy questions ("Did you eat chicken or turkey during the last three months?"). He continues, "But the survey soon became harder, as when it asked me to think back over the past three months to recall whether when I ate okra, squash, or yams were they fried, and if so, were they fried in stick margarine, tub margarine, butter, shortening ... olive or canola oil, or nonstick spray? I would hope they'd take my answers with a grain of salt because I honestly didn't remember and in the case of any okra eaten in a restaurant, even a hypnotist or CIA interrogator could not extract from me what sort of fat it was fried in. ... Matters got even sketchier in the second section of the survey, when I was asked to specify how many times in the last three months I'd eaten a half-cup serving of broccoli, among a dizzying array of other fruits and vegetables I was asked to tally for the dietary quarter." He goes on to describe how the portions of meat they ask about - like a 4-oz steak - are far smaller than what we usually eat today.

From what I read in the OP links, this study provides no evidence that people were eating more potatoes but fewer total calories. As far as I can tell, they were just eating MORE. It's intuitively obvious (to me at least) that if you're eating more potato chips than you used to, you've got a larger additional calorie intake than you do if you're eating more lettuce than you used to.

The thing is, as far as I can tell, we have no idea how much we're eating. We certainly have no idea what a packaged serving size is, compared to what we eat, unless we pay careful and constant attention. Quick: what's a serving size of pasta? If you said 2 oz (instead of the 3, 4, or 6 oz I regularly see in recipes online), you win. Now: is that how much pasta you usually eat when you sit down to a meal? Do you know?

When I realized I weighed more than I wanted to and decided to try to lose some weight, I had a few false starts - notably, drastically reducing fat (and with it, protein) and feeling TERRIBLE for a few days. I tried a bunch of things, but what's worked best for me is portion control. I eat pretty much whatever I want; I'm just eating a lot less of it than I used to.

To get a handle on calories, I started weighing my food. For me, it's geeky fun - I get an odd delight out of writing down grams and typing them into my diet-info software (Cron-ometer, yay).

My epiphany moment came when I weighed my breakfast granola. The side of the box says a serving is 3/4 of a cup, or 55 grams. The weird thing was, when I poured out 3/4 of a cup and popped it on the scale ... I got 75 grams. That's not right. So I dialed down to 1/2 a cup of granola for my 50 or 55 grams.

Which means, until I happened to weigh my breakfast, I was eating 50% more calories than I thought I had been - even though I was going by the official nutrition info on the side of the box.

A year or two later, I still weigh a lot of my food - again, for fun. I certainly don't do it for every meal; I just enjoy satisfying my own curiosity. But after months and months of weighing my food, I still guessed badly at the amount of butter I used for my egg this morning (I thought I was getting 15 grams - about 2 tsp - but it turned out to be 10 - about 1.5 tsp). I sliced up a pineapple a couple of days ago and had no idea how much a standard serving would be, or how close to a standard serving I would be eating if I had one of my biggish slices. (Turns out a hefty slice of pineapple is 118 g and 58 calories - less than a Trader Joe's cookie, which is 65 calories.)

I'm just amazed, though, at how bad I am at estimating how much I'm eating - even after I've been paying close attention for many months. I suspect most people reporting their eating habits in these studies are way off in their reporting.

If you enjoy the weird geeky fun I do, here's an experiment for you:

1. Estimate how many calories a day you've eaten for the past week.

2. Write down everything you remember eating for the past week.

3. Repeat step 1. Any change?

4. Write down everything you eat for the next week. Don't weigh it, just write it down. Include how many "servings" each thing is. Are you eating 1 serving of potatoes, or less, or more?

5. At the end of the week, estimate how many calories you ate.

6. For the following week, weigh everything you eat, write it down, and look up the calories and official serving sizes.

Bet you'll be surprised. I sure was. And am.

I DO believe WHAT you eat matters, as well as how much. But I don't think we have much real understanding at all of the specifics. Is saturated fat good or bad? Is red meat good or bad? Are grains good or bad? Is it the dietary cholesterol bad for you, or unimportant? Is it the omega 3s, the omega 6s, the ratio of omegas? Is it the flavenoids? The saponins? The excess of chemical components we've identified (possibly incorrectly) as bad for us? The lack of chemical components we haven't yet identified at all?

I think Pollan's exhortation to "eat food" - real food, not hydrogenated, highly-processed mystery substances - is great, and it works really well for me. But I think the "not too much" is really important, too, and I just don't think most other folks are doing a better job at estimating how much they're actually eating than the poor job I do myself.
posted by kristi at 2:18 PM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Which means, until I happened to weigh my breakfast, I was eating 50% more calories than I thought I had been - even though I was going by the official nutrition info on the side of the box.

That's because the granola doesn't pack efficiently. Sometimes you'll get more than 55g in 3/4cup, sometimes less. Over the entire box it should average at 55g. You don't necessarily have to keep track of whether this particular serving is 60g or 50g, only that you ate 3/4cup because it'll average out. Theoretically.
posted by Justinian at 3:05 PM on June 25, 2011


No surprise in this study. We have a pretty low carbo household and keep the frying down to a minimum. We haven't had a loaf of bread in the house in at least three years (the occasional English muffin on the weekends) and fast food is an absolute rarity.

Breakfast is almost always diced peppers, spinach, tomato and onion sauteed up with scrambled eggs (usually four eggs, of which only one or two yolks); Lunch is generally a salad with a protein (pork chop, grilled chicken, leftover steak) and dinner can sometimes be a protein shake (strawberries, blueberries, little banana, almond butter, cinnamon and Rob Roy protein powder), but usually chicken of some sort.

Since I've changed diet, my exercising has been minimal but my weight has been very steady - in fact, the most steady it has ever been, so I'm happy about that.

The key, besides avoiding fried, fast foods, is to keep things like nuts around the house to snack on, or good Greek yogurt (Chobani is my new favorite brand) and always keep some good high-protein, low carb bars around for emergencies. Another important thing is to always mix in a protein with things like salads or oatmeal. This helps slow down the processing and makes it a more efficient food and makes you less likely to get super hungry an hour later. For oatmeal I'm a big fan of Kashi Vanilla oatmeal with an extra scoop of protein powder mixed in and some cinnamon. Like I mentioned for salads, always have some grilled chicken or leftover meat with it.

The body processes natural foods a lot better than processed foods. You'll be much healthier for it.
posted by tgrundke at 3:35 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great. More fuel to power the obsessive compulsive eating associated with mainstream fitness. I'm not suggesting that this study shouldn't have been conducted, but I can so easily see this being taken out of context as a cite for some person with orthorexia spouting off how eating french fries on your diet will ruin you.
posted by Evernix at 4:03 PM on June 25, 2011


I think we have so many chemicals and artificial ingredients being consumed...

Just to make sure I understand, you believe that things like the the sodium salt of glutamic acid is going to slowly kill us all, but that polyglycosilated (14-alpha)-13-Hydroxykaur-16-en-18-oic is the answer?

This is why I just shrug when I look at this kind of this work and stick with"eat less, exercise more".
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:14 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


A 136-item food frequency questionnaire previously validated in Spain was used.

I don't want to be the guy armchair quarterbacking the tenured, peer-reviewed researchers, but I have a very hard time believing they can get worthwhile data about long-term dietary habits this way.

I mean, the study in the FPP says they got dietary data for 100,000 people over periods of four years. That seems like an extraordinary claim to me.
posted by straight at 4:25 PM on June 25, 2011


I'm a bit confused on terminology - when we're talking about fried foods being bad for you, do we mean deep fryer stuff, or are we also including things like heating up 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet when preparing food at home? Is that something I should be avoiding? It's how I cook most things...
posted by naju at 5:42 PM on June 25, 2011


I'm English so I'm lucky and never eat french fries. I do eat chips with everything though, they're great!
posted by joannemullen at 5:50 PM on June 25, 2011


Did you know that people in Germany leave potatoes on the grave of Frederick the Great?

When Frederick the Great was 18, he tried to run away from his hard-ass father, who only cared about the army, but he got caught. And as punishment for this--and for being the sort of boy who liked French literature and classical music and not the army--his dad made him oversee agricultural and drainage projects for years(Berlin and surrounding environs is rather swampy).

He learned the importance of agriculture though, and when he became king in 1740, he found out about the potato. He tried to convince the local peasants to try it, because they didn't have a lot of vegetables in their diet at that point, but they were all skeptical.

So Frederick the Great planted a huge field of potatoes and set guards up to watch over it, day and night. And the local peasants said to themselves: "Whatever they've planted there must be really good, if Frederick the Great set up all those guards." So the peasants snuck into the fields late at night and dug up the potatoes and took them home, and presumably learned to fry them with butter.

The trick, of course, is that Frederick the Great told the guards to stand watch but never go after anyone, because he wanted the potatoes to get stolen. And now people are so grateful for the potato that they leave them as offerings on his grave.
posted by colfax at 6:25 PM on June 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


I don't care. I still love fries, and it's a junk food indulgence even vegans can join in. This truck makes badass ones, btw.
posted by jonmc at 7:09 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


During the 4-year period, participants gained an average of 3.35 lb

That is absolutely insane. Less than a pound a year? Very fishy.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:40 PM on June 25, 2011


I'm interested in localroger's comment about eating to the glucometer. Is that a consequence of a diabetes diagnosis, or intended to prevent one? Also, how exactly is it done?
posted by flabdablet at 8:54 PM on June 25, 2011


Related: my university passed a rule that all vending machines on campus could only sell healthy food and drinks. So they replaced Coke with Diet Coke and Lays with Baked Lays. Geniuses.

At my office the vending machines have a low-fat row. You know what's in it? Skittles.

the kind of people who are buying yogurt are the kind of people who don't nosh down fries.

Huh?

I'm also wondering if peanuts qualify as nuts for this study...

Or almonds ... (and all the other drupes) ... regardless, both fruits and nuts seemed to score pretty well. Legumes are ... fruits?
posted by mrgrimm at 8:56 PM on June 25, 2011


What if they simply can't afford good food, and must resort to food that's energy dense, whatever the nutritional status? A lot of people consume junk food, simply because they can't afford "nuts, fruits and fresh vegetables". Potatoes are certainly cheap, relatively speaking.

Turnips are cheaper by half. Carrots probably too.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:00 PM on June 25, 2011


Every few months I find myself in a fast food place, thinking to myself, You know, self, this meal might not be so overwhelmingly unhealthy if it weren't for that 'side dish' consisting of one and a half gigantic potatoes deep fried in fat and coated with salt.

And that bucket of sugarwater ain't helping things.

posted by Sys Rq at 9:55 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Study or no study, there is nothing more fun than ordering a Double-Double, and when prompted "Do you want fries with that?", answering "No, I'm trying to watch what I eat."
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 10:11 PM on June 25, 2011


Turnips are cheaper by half. Carrots probably too.

Maybe by volume or weight, but very rarely and mostly never by calorie. Junk food is caloricaly dense, carrots and turnips - not so much. It's about how much you spend per calorie that really makes junk food make financial sense for a lot of people.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:15 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eating the crap yogurt is probably no more beneficial than eating pudding cups.

A guy I used to work with referred to those kinds of yogurt as "bourgeois white lady pudding". Make of that what you will.
posted by palomar at 11:39 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


1. Yoghurt. It's a little like molecular cloning. "All you need is one." Even if the vast vast vast majority of the lactobacillus in yoghurt never leaves the stomach to enter the large and small intestines, you only need a few bacterium to. Providing that your lower gut is a good place for lactobacillus, you don't even need Adam and Eve as bacteria are asexual. Inulin is a "soluble fiber" that makes it into the lower intestines and promotes lactobacillus growth (by being a really good food for them). Eating lots of yoghurt might help readjust one's gut microflora by over-innoculating a particular strain, it's usually more effective to change the microenvironment to favour one's favourite micro-organisms.

2. Potatoes vs other starchy tubers.

3. I`m not really sold on the explaination for this story. Anecdotally, I have a coworker who eats very little other than potatoes - and we mock her mercilessly over this dietary oddity - but she's 5'9" 110 between the ages of 18 and 26 and shows no signs of impending non-pregnancy-related weight gain.

4. A lot of these studies want to seem impartial and non-judgemental. It is likely that a lot of stuff is not being said/reported. On the face of it, dietary potato intake might not be directly correlated with other stuff like socioeconomic or education levels, but when one looks holistically at the data... who knows? I say this as a scientist, but I blame this much more on mainstream "science reporting" over the actual authors of the original paper(s).
posted by porpoise at 11:50 PM on June 25, 2011


... erm, "and as observed from the age of 18 to 26..." Very little arbitrary weight gain (freshman 15 did not apply during undergrad, nor grad) other than a small increase in breast and hip tissue. Some body fat loss matched with muscle gain over 8 years.

I grew up in Canada, did undergrad in the USA. Highschool friends are 65% normal-weight-looking, 15% are "fashionably" underweight. Looking at facebook of people who are attending a college friend's wedding (all Americans)... 95%+ are overweight. College friends whore' getting married (American) used to be skinny/"yeah she's going to be pretty big". Both are now huge manatees.

It isn't a socioeconomic or genetic thing. It Must. MUST be a social or infrastructure issue - my Canadian friends from all walks of like tend to be fit vs. my American college friends who are all on the upper-end of the socioeconomic spectrum who now tend to be far far far from fit.
posted by porpoise at 12:02 AM on June 26, 2011


People who hate calories in vs calories out are in denial of reality.
posted by tarvuz at 3:56 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


People who think calories in vs. calories out is all there is to it have never had a serious weight management problem.
posted by flabdablet at 4:16 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


tarvuz: But somewhat less so than people who think "calories in" can be calculated by adding up the numbers on your food and that "calories out" can be calculated by adding up the amount of calories you burn during exercise.

The universe is complicated. Simple approximations are often helpful but rarely correct.
posted by DRMacIver at 4:24 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


College friends whore' getting married (American)

In the US, we would call the bride-to-be a "sex worker," but we are funny that way down here. Goes along with oh-the-huge-manatee, I guess.

I have never looked up any comparative statistics, but I do go to Canada fairly often and people there don't look enormously (ahem) different from here, despite the death panels good healthcare. I definitely get the sense that obesity in Canada follows class lines, just like here; perhaps that is somewhat ameliorated by Canada's social provisions and slightly more equal distribution of income.
posted by Forktine at 6:09 AM on June 26, 2011


flabdablet: 'm interested in localroger's comment about eating to the glucometer. Is that a consequence of a diabetes diagnosis, or intended to prevent one? Also, how exactly is it done?

I became suspicious that my health issues were diabetes related when my mother was diagnosed in 2005. I bought the meter on Jan 1 2006.

Normal readings are mid-80's mg/dl on waking ("fasting level") and a spike peaking at at about 120 mg/dl after a meal. 140 mg/dl is the level at which blood sugar becomes toxic to nerve and pancreatic beta cells.

On Jan 1 2006 my fasting glucose level was 110 mg/dl. This is a level which most doctors would not have even glanced twice at until recently. I didn't like it though so I ate a Snickers bar to see what would happen. What happened was within an hour it was 190 mg/dl. But within another two hours it was back below 120. I have read that it works the other way around for most people who have metabolic syndrome; there are two groups of pancreatic beta cells which react to a glucose bolus; a fast-response group which is meant to keep the initial peak below 140, and a slower group which nudges it back from the low 100's to the 80's. Depending on which group is falling down on the job you could have a fast, short, high peak like mine, or a lower but more lingering peak that still keeps a toxic level for hours.

If your body is working properly eating to the meter doesn't work and isn't necessary, because your levels will stay non-toxic pretty much no matter what you eat. That said, about half the people who have accepted my offer to test them have had problem levels.

Once I learned the shape of my impulse response so I knew the best time to test, I basically stopped eating anything that made the meter go over 140. I went through a couple of hundred test strips in those first few months. I quckly found out that even small amounts of pasta, potatoes, and rice were dangerous. In fact, actual desserts do not throw my levels out of whack as much as a potato.

Since the toxicity is chronic, once you have normalized things you can afford the occasional blowout, so once in awhile I'll have a small dessert. (As rtha suggests upthread, when you get rolling on low carb you find you can't eat as much anyway.) But I will not eat a potato. if I'm going to poison myself it's going to be for something I enjoy.
posted by localroger at 6:53 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have never looked up any comparative statistics, but I do go to Canada fairly often and people there don't look enormously (ahem) different from here, despite the death panels good healthcare.
According to the US Centers for Disease Controls, Americans are significantly more likely to be obese than Canadians. 34% of Americans and 24% of Canadians are obese.

(Who the hell calls people "giant manatees," btw? I mean, seriously?)
Turnips are cheaper by half. Carrots probably too.
Yeah, but it's really hard to make an entire meal out of carrots and turnips. Carrots, turnips and potatoes, roasted in some butter or oil, is a meal.

Potatoes are a bit of a miracle food: they're cheap, they're easy to cook, and they're versatile. There's a good reason they became a staple for so many peasant societies. Rice and pasta are the same way.
posted by craichead at 6:57 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Carrots, turnips and potatoes, roasted in some butter or oil, is a meal.

Actually, if you're going to roast them in butter or oil, carrots and turnips (and squash and peppers and other such things) make a very adequate meal. If you are not eating a lot of fast-release carbs, you quickly lose the craving to eat even more of them that makes the potatoes seem necessary in that dish.
posted by localroger at 7:44 AM on June 26, 2011


Thanks for that, localroger. I think I'll borrow a meter and experiment.
posted by flabdablet at 7:50 AM on June 26, 2011


Actually, if you're going to roast them in butter or oil, carrots and turnips (and squash and peppers and other such things) make a very adequate meal.
We were talking about what's cheap. Squash and peppers aren't cheap. And I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you don't ever actually eat just carrots and turnips for dinner. Whereas I really have done the roasted potatoes, carrots and onions thing quite a bit when I was really broke. Trust me: potatoes may be evil death-tubers, but there's a reason that they're popular food among people who don't have much money.
posted by craichead at 7:58 AM on June 26, 2011


(As rtha suggests upthread, when you get rolling on low carb you find you can't eat as much anyway.)

I ate more carbs in one go yesterday than I have in a while and I feel pretty crappy this morning. That'll learn me! I hope.
posted by rtha at 8:12 AM on June 26, 2011


Squash and peppers aren't cheap

Around here squash is very cheap, especially in season. It grows like kudzu. People have trouble giving it away. Certain peppers are cheap, but bell peppers aren't.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:02 AM on June 26, 2011


Zucchini, squash, various tree fruits: around here it takes active effort to avoid having these things foisted upon oneself.

I'll take the fruit, of course. Zucchini is so unwanted I've heard of people leaving it on strangers' doorsteps in the dark of night.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:25 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Zucchini, squash, various tree fruits: around here it takes active effort to avoid having these things foisted upon oneself.
Ok, well, when I was really broke, I was living on the seventh floor of a high-rise on the South Side of Chicago. There were not a lot of people foisting garden produce upon me.

(Also, winter squash is pretty filling, but zucchini isn't. It's also a lot more perishable than potatoes or winter squash. I am pro-zucchini as a general proposition, but it's not really a potato-esque solution to the "how do I get enough calories on very little money" dilemma.)
posted by craichead at 12:02 PM on June 26, 2011


I ate more carbs in one go yesterday than I have in a while and I feel pretty crappy this morning.

It's interesting how you can notice and listen to your body easier when you cancel out a lot of the noise it usually has to deal with. There was this Ask recently, and I thought "Yep, I get a 'hangover' in the morning when I eat a lot of carbs before bed." but that's a subjective MMV type of thing.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:50 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's all well and good to advise people to eat nuts fruits and fresh vegetables, but it's not just about knowledge. It's about means. Giving people advise like this, can be almost cruel. What if they simply can't afford good food, and must resort to food that's energy dense, whatever the nutritional status?

The problem you are getting at is about population which is the elephant in the room that everyone chooses to ignore (causes vary, but both sides of the political spectrum steadfastly ignore the issue).
posted by rr at 2:14 PM on June 26, 2011


A guy I used to work with referred to those kinds of yogurt as "bourgeois white lady pudding".

Made from organic free-range bourgeois white ladies.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:50 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's about how much you spend per calorie that really makes junk food make financial sense for a lot of people.

Just add butter or oil.

The problem you are getting at is about population which is the elephant in the room that everyone chooses to ignore (causes vary, but both sides of the political spectrum steadfastly ignore the issue).

The U.S. still throws away half of its food.

And I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you don't ever actually eat just carrots and turnips for dinner.

No, but the rice and broccoli and sauce/oil aren't expensive either.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:39 AM on June 27, 2011


The U.S. still throws away half of its food

Yes, and at some point it will be a quarter, and then less, and so on. The root problem is population and the refusal to get it under control (because of The Jesus or because it's "bad" to try and stem influx or tell people they can't reproduce).
posted by rr at 3:22 PM on July 1, 2011


The "root problem" has never been proven to be population. That doesn't make sense to me.

"Pick a number, any number at all from 0 to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 for the maximum number that the Earth will support and there will be a scholarly supporter for that number."

(IMO) The two root problems right now in feeding the world are inefficient (and dangerous) farming and poor distribution of resources. The number of people who require said resources is only one problem of many.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:41 PM on July 1, 2011


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