Friday, October 30, 2015

Toxins, toxins everywhere


Sometimes, when I have a meal with others, I experience the Nutritionist Dilemma: should I tell them that the food they are eating is utterly unhealthy? Examples include fast food, chips and treats loaded with tons of refined sugar, colorants, hydrogenated vegetable oils and soy lecithin. Up to the allegedly healthy options like zero-fat cheese cream, soy yogurt, tofu, pasteurized fruit juices, crackers with 7-cereals, roasted nuts, meal-replacements, etc.

With all my good intentions of course, I don't want to be condescending or sarcastic. I just want to help people. And the response is the most frustrating and disarming claim a nutritionist can hear:

If you pay attention to everything, you don't eat anymore

Case closed, eat your healthy stuff, let me eat my poison.

One of my professors said that "doing lectures in social events is not efficient anyway". In his long experience as a nutritionist he knows what I am getting used to, little by little.

The mindset problem

We live in a polluted world. Some toxins are 100% natural (just think about the Amanita phalloides), some are man-made. Some substances are healthy in moderation and toxic in excess (Vit-A for example). In short, we cannot eliminate all types of pollution and toxins from our lives. Even now, most of you are sitting in front of a laptop (WiFi network), and probably have one or more cellphones within meters, if not in their pockets (microwaves).

Speaking about food, even an iceberg salad from the most organic produce contains toxins, both natural and artificial. How does this situation fit in the "frustrating and disarming claim" above? Easy: since we are already getting our daily load of toxins unwillingly... we should do the best choice possible in the cases were we have control of the situation. The good things we choose to eat should be good enough to counterbalance what we are not in control of.

I prepared a short (pun intended) list of common sources of toxins. It is obviously not complete, these are just examples. The goal is to raise awareness, stimulate the curiosity and have the reader do their own researches.

Let's start with the...

Ingredients, of course

Some food is not suitable for human consumption. Again, think about poisonous mushrooms or those delicious-looking red berries you saw in the woods: some food can kill you in days if not even hours. Some toxins are more vicious and kill you very slowly, in years. Surprisingly enough (well, to be honest I am not surprised anymore), some of them have even been promoted as health food.

I'll go now through a quick list, I think there is little-to-no need for explanations and everybody will pretty much agree on it. If not, just let me know.
  • Soy and derivatives (how could I not mention it...). Even if you don't eat tofu, fake-meat, soy milk or soy yogurt, this legume is found everywhere in pre-packaged food, either in the form of oil, flour or just lecithine.
  • Grain-fed meat from animals which should be fed grass. These animals are often filled with antibiotics to cope with the diseases to which they are easily subject due to their awful diet.
  • Rancid vegetable oils, just check my post on fats in case you missed it.
  • Plastic bottles, technically not an ingredient, but may leak into the water we drink. Plastic bottles are a source of xenoextrogenes and BPA. Choose glass whenever possible.
  • Styrofoam and plastic cups, plastic spoons, again can become ingredients by leaking cancerogenic molecules into your hot coffee.

Some healthy food may be/become toxic if not properly prepared or just eaten in excess. Notable examples are:
  • Some cereals (wheat, rye, oat, barley), proper preparation include soaking, fermenting or sprouting in order to eliminate phytic acid, lectins and to start breaking down gluten. Pasta, biscuits, pizza, grissini and white bread are the wrong way to eat cereals. Sourdough and oatmeal soaked overnight are the traditional and healthy ways.
  • Meat, charred meat is in fact cancerogenous, that's the bias of almost every study that proves how bad red meat is. Proper cooking techniques include stewing, boiling and slow roasting. Btw, meat can even be eaten raw if you trust the source.
  • Fish, due to the delicate ω-3 fatty acids, should never be cooked too long of too violently.
  • Cruciferae (broccoli, bruxelles sprouts, cabbage, ...) contain goitrogens, which impair the absorption of Iodine, thus causing thyroid issues in those people predisposed to. While most people can safely eat moderate amounts of them raw, for some others it is imperative to cook those vegetables to get rid of the goitrogenic effect.
  • Nuts and seeds, as I keep repeating, are not suitable for roasting. This is particularly true for nut flours, where the surface in direct contact with the air is augmented. Eat them rigorously raw. Further improvements include soaking them overnight to eliminate phytic acid.
  • Pulses (beans, chickpeas, green peas, lentils) are a great food which has unjustly been banned from the paleo diet because they contain phytates and saponins. Proper preparation includes soaking and cooking. Hint: never start from the fresh seeds, they must be dried and re-hydrated in order for the trick to work. As for nuts and cereals, the seed must think it's time to sprout.
  • Pseudo-cereals like quinoa, and amaranth contain saponins: again, soaking or at least pre-washing them before cooking will improve their health benefits (and their taste...). Unfortunately not many people know it.
  • Liver, is such a superfood with so many vitamins and bioavailable iron that eaten in excess may be toxic. In the same way you can overdo seaweed (iodine) and brazilnuts (selenium).
  • Red wine, I consider drinking a personal choice, however everybody with few exceptions agrees on the health benefits of the occasional glass. One thing people must realize is that the benefits of resveratrol have a upper limit, on the contrary the damages of ethanol are unlimited. Try not to reach the break-even point (translation: drink only one glass and occasionally). 

Food additives

When you buy prepared meals you can be sure of one thing: there are food additives. Colorants, preservatives, plenty of added sugar for sure, emulsifiers (often soy lecithin) and of course flavor enhancers, with MSG being probably the less dangerous.

I have been working on a list of food additives and their safety for my own use. I think that this subject is big enough for a dedicated post and probably even a printable handout that I will share with pleasure once I am done.

Cookware

I am always surprised how surprised people are when I tell them that anti-stick cookware is not safe. I think that everybody already digested the fact that teflon is pretty much toxic, some people (including me...) even digested their share of teflon chips. Why should the new generation of cookware made with the same polymers used to make teflon... be any less unhealthy? That's the sad truth: silverstone is another name for teflon, what changed is the process to produce it, which justified the change of name. Ah, the power of patents...

Silicon has become a recent favorite, especially for cookies, muffins, cakes, etc. Flexible, non-stick, easy to wash, my grandma would have loved it. However from a health point of view silicon is very controversial and despite my researches I still do not have a clear opinion on its safety. In doubt, I prefer to avoid it, anyway I don't bake that much...

Aluminium cookware. Neurotoxic. Enough said.

Plastic containers in microwave oven... self-evident.

Ok Alex, once again: what should we use?

I am a big fan of cast iron cookware and through the years I replaced everything in my kitchen. According to me there is hardly a better choice: they can be used with any type of heat source including the oven. They distribute heat evenly and keep food hot long time on the table. They are not non-stick and if you try to cook fat-free you'll immediately notice it but that should not be a problem: after reading my previous articles you should not fear fats anymore. Last but not least... they will literally last centuries, if properly used of course.

Stainless steel is a good choice for an all-purpose frying pan or cooking pot. Definitely cheaper than cast iron, it is also thinner and may not deliver heat as evenly, but in general works very well for soups or for making bone broth (I want to see somebody lifting a 10 liters cauldron made of cast iron full of boiling water). It tends to leak iron, which may be good for some people, but also nickel, especially when in contact with acid food like tomatoes. And some people are sensitive to nickel.

Glass is a 100% safe and relatively cheap choice if you cook in the oven. Great for baked potatoes à la provençale, tartiflette, ratatouille, but also lasagne, moussaka, eggplants alla parmigiana, stuffed peppers, roasted fish... Sorry I have to stop here, I'm getting hungry.

Ceramic... that's a tricky one. In my opinion that's the best choice for cooking in the oven. It is refractory so it cooks food evenly without the risk that it stitches on it. The enamel however must be certified to be lead free.

Earthenware pots... oh yes! Crockpot, gwetch, tagine. Terracotta is another excellent choice for slow cooking. The lack of enamel and thus the porosity of the surface keeps the food moist and prevents a lot of flavors from being dispersed. I believe everybody seriously interested in cooking should own at least one (I have five). Again, the risk is lead poisoning, so don't use the first cheap crockpot, only quality products.

Skin products

Toxins, toxins everywhere... not just in our dishes. Let's talk about balms, creams, shampoos, shaving foams and soaps. Quick question first:

Would you eat your moisturizer or drink your shampoo?

As obvious as the answer is, the fact is that you are already eating it. The skin is one of our lines of first defense against pathogens and chemicals, however some chemicals are able to leak through. Just think about cortisol creams and nicotine patches. Why shouldn't it be the same with any other product you put on your skin?

Objection: they tested the creams and they are safe. I wish I could be so optimist. Tests don't last enough to show the side effects of prolonged use. The ultimate guinea pig is always the customer.

Objection: I don't want wrinkles. Neither do I. Skin health is important and that's exactly the reason why it should be approached the correct way.

Let's get practical Alex, no moisturizer, no soap, no shampoos. What then?

Products like Alep's soap or the original Marseille soap are made with three ingredients: oil of olive, oil of bay and lye. Both are extremely efficient for cleaning skin and hair and work wonderfully as shaving foam, too.

For skin care, one thing people are missing is that the skin is the mirror of what happens inside your body. If you don't fix the root cause you'll never get rid of the effects.
  • Dry skin is an indication of chronic dehydration and/or essential fatty acids deficiency. It may also be that you are using a soap that is too aggressive or just take too many showers.
  • Adult acne often reveals SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth). I would check this first, before using hormones based creams...
  • Wrinkles, while it is true that they cannot be prevented indefinitely, they can be postponed: nutrients like glycine (bone broth, collagen, chicken skin, ...) and Vit-C all contribute with surprising efficiency to keeping the skin young, brilliant and healthy looking. The side effect will be healthy joints, tendons and ligaments, and.... tastier meals!
The subject is very big and can't be fully covered here (for example, butter and coconut oil are good moisturizers and I personally don't mind eating them). I hope I conveied the Big Idea.

I am not an expert of skin care products but I am a nutritionist and I like working inside-out. I promise I will dedicate a post on this, maybe with the help of somebody.

Antiperspirants

This is an interesting one. Sweat is one of several pathways our body employs to eliminate toxins (the others are urine, feces and the breath). Important centers are the lymph nodes which are located under the armpits, which incidentally is also a place where we sweat a lot.

I won't develop this topic any further, I'll just leave you with some food for thought: does it really make sense to prevent your body from sweating and thus from detoxifying? What would be instead a better solution?

Dish cleaning products

Sometimes you do indeed eat soap, this happens if you wash your dishes and don't rinse them carefully. It has been calculated that, over a lifetime, the average person drinks a couple of liters of the stuff, drop by drop and day after day of course. Still, this is yet another poison we deliberately add to our diets when in fact we have the choice not to.

Sometimes, the best way to convey an idea is irony. One comic situation I always have in my mind is a mother screaming in a high-pitched voice:

Oh my goodness there is still some food on the dishes!
Let's wash it away with a petroleum-based poison!

And by the way, if you wash your dishes with bare hands, chances are that you are absorbing some through the skin, too.

Ok, Alex, we got it. So we leave the dishes dirty until next meal?

I never said that, there is in fact an alternative: cleaning them with edible products. My favorite cleaning agents for dishes and cookware are cheap vinegar and lemon husks (also good for brushing, very useful for the cast-iron grill). People are often skeptic about their effectiveness until they try. Then it is just a matter of making it an habit.

Volatile compounds

I skip tobacco if you don't mind, because that one is obvious.

The quality of the air we breathe is very important and just the fact of living in cities already gives us a decent daily dose of toxins (particulate matter, benzene, etc). We can't do much to fix it, except building a hut in Tibet and live like a hermit eating yak butter and potatoes until we reach the age of 120: it is proven to work, it is just not my ideal lifestyle, I believe it isn't yours neither.

We are not looking to be perfect, we are looking to do our best. The best we can do in this case is to avoid supplementing with additional toxins where we are in control. Examples of daily toxins most of us deliberately add to their air are:
  • Insecticides: those sprayed in the air are clearly the most dangerous. For a micro-droplet you actually need to kill a mosquito, you disperse a consistent quantity of the product. Guess who is breathing it? My take: run after the mosquito and kill it by physical means: the benefits are that you will be doing some cardio, too.
  • Eau de toilette, air scents: this one may not be obvious because people think that those products are tested and therefore safe. They are not. The fact that they don't kill you on the instant doesn't mean they are 100% harmless. Think of allergies, asthma, migraines... why are they becoming more and more diffused? For perfumes the problem is double since it is put directly onto the skin (see above: creams, soaps, shampoos...).
  • Hair spray: those copolymers of polyvinylpyrrolidone and polyvinyl acetate stitch to your hair, what do you think they do to the mucosa of your respiratory tract? With all my heart: stay away from it.
  • Nail polishers and thinners: they easily melt a crust that could bravely tolerate water, alcohol, vinegar, bleach and other solvents for one entire week. It is also very volatile so chances are you are inhaling every drop of it. Acetone and methanol are both extremely toxic, there are however alternatives which don't contain them. I found some products but won't list them here because I don't like doing ads, just be informed that they exist. I let the pleasure to find them to those interested, it's a girl thing anyway ;)
  • Cleaning products: although green alternatives exist (I manage to clean 99% of my house with just water, vinegar and alcohol), sometimes something stronger is needed. In these cases, make sure you wear gloves and possibly a surgeon mask. You may feel funny at the beginning but it is better than feeling sorry at the end.
  • Fabric softeners: I wasn't much a believer of this but after I read some studies of how conditioners stay in the tissues of clothes and bed sheets after the spin phase, how they keep sublimating for days, and their potential effects on heath, I am seriously considering not using them anymore.
  • Paraffin candles: cheap (and sometimes scented with chemicals) they are in fact made with a derivate of petroleum, so nothing I would breathe happily. Good alternatives, although more expensive, are beeswax candles. Think it this way: candles are great to create a warm and romantic ambiance... use the real thing!
  • Incense... I understand the charm of those exotic smelling scents and the feeling of enlightenment many New Agers get from burning them in their bedrooms or even at the office but... get real: fumes they are, therefore cancerogenic.
  • Paint thinners, glues and other solvents: many people like DIY. That's fine, it is a great hobby. Unfortunately it comes with a price and I am not referring to the costs of the materials and tools. Fumes of paint thinners and solvents are toxic and potentially cancerogenic, moreover the proximity to the source and the fact that often bricolage is done in a poorly aerated location makes you inhale quantities of it. If you really like bricolage and can't renounce to it, consider doing it outdoors.

Done? No way. The list is obviously an example, it could be much longer but again: it is the concept that is important. Smart people can figure out the missing bullet points just by looking around in their living rooms, while stupid people won't change their habits no matter how complete my list is.

Conclusions

The post is over, now I can finally ask:

How many of you removed the cellphone from their pockets
while reading this article?

But why? Anyway we live in a polluted world!

Exactly: the fact is that keeping a source of microwaves close to the reproductive organs is a choice, and we can choose not to. Shouldn't it be the same with the food we eat, the cookware we use, the creams we spread on our skins and the volatile compounds we deliberately release in the air?

Stay healthy and... stay tuned!




Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Replacements



I have been asked explanations on my reluctancy to use nut flours as a replacement to traditional flours in preparations such as muffins, bread, pizza-crust, etc. As well as alternatives to milk such as white concoctions based on soy, rice, almond, coconut, etc. Topic what I intended to develop anyway, so it is with pleasure that I satisfy the request.

Just one recommendation: feel free to share your perplexities, approvals, disapprovals, etc in the comments area, not because I don't like being asked in the corridor or via email, it is just that this way it will be possible to animate an open discussion. If you feel embarrassed, remember: there are no stupid questions... and even for the almost-stupid ones, you can still post as anonymous ;)

Let's begin...

Nut flours

I already mentioned in one post that I am not an avid grain eater and I recognize that modern wheat has some problems. Notable problems of modern wheat are: higher gluten content (compared to the wheat of 100 years ago), and pesticides of course. Additionally, the way wheat is prepared today does not follow the traditional preparations (sprouting, soaking, lacto-fermentation).

Although my take is that gluten allergy and gluten intollerance are a bit exagerated by the media and often even by people pretending "to have it", the problem stays: gluten is inflammatory.

Let's face it, who right in their mind wakes up in the morning and says:
  • "I want to start the day inflamed"
... and eats some food that inflames? It is not a joke, it is a serious question and the answer is: anybody having bisquits or slices of white bread for breakfast.

Another problem with cereals are phytates. Phytic acid is a compound that binds some essential minerals (calcium, iron, zinc, ...), thus limiting their absorption in the gut. In short: bread may have iron and zinc, but you won't absorb them, bringing to a silent epidemic of mineral deficiencies.

In the health movement, and in particular in the gluten-free and paleo, wheat has been abolished. And that's fine, you can live without bread, pasta, bisquits and pizza. I do very well with just two or three homemade rye sourdoughs per year and I confirm that cereals are not such an important brick in the food pyramid.

The problem is that some people can't psychologycally get rid of the cravings for the treats and commodity foods they are leaving behind. Check any blog about paleo recipes and you'll see that nine dishes out of ten are treats with alternative paleo-approved ingredients. Enter nut flours.

Nut flours are nuts (very popular is the one from almonds) which are ground and used for preparations as a replacement for traditional flour: bread, muffins, pizza crust.

Why do I keep saying that they are not a healthy replacement? Let's analyze the content (100g, bleached almonds):

Proteins21.9 g
Carbohydrates19.9 g
Fats, total50.6 g
Saturated fats3.9 g (7.7%)
Monounsaturated fats32.3 g (63.8%)
Polyunsaturated fats ω-30 g (0%)
Polyunsaturated fats ω-612.1 g (23.9%)

If you have read my post on fats it should be obvious where I am going: the fats contained in almonds are easily oxidized with heat. Rancid fatty acids are inflammatory and potentially cancerogenic, to which I prefer gluten that is just inflammatory.

Even unroasted, the obvious unbalance between ω-3 and ω-6 does not really make it a good food to abuse, unless you are also eating plenty of cold water fish.

Will almond flour at least save you from phytates? Not even that: in the same amount of ground flour, almonds contain three times the phytic acid as wheat.

So, what's the solution?
  • The first is obvious: don't bake at all. There are literally dozens of thousands of recipes that do not involve baking, theoretically you can eat a different recipe every meal for the rest of your life and enjoy variety in the process.
  • Bake with other replacements. Some people claimed success with tapioca (cassava flour) as well as with plantain. In my quest to speak only about things I know, I tried both: tapioca makes a very gummy texture, not something I will ever become a fan of. However, tapioca is an excellent replacement to wheat flour in pancakes or to thinken sauces. The texture from plantain is more acceptable but won't inflate much, expect a very compact bagel from it.
  • Follow the traditions. Ditch refined modern wheat without much regret and use instead whole rye from organic produce. Take your time to knead a sourdough, let it lacto-ferment for 36-48 hours and bake it. Rye contains a milder type gluten and the lacto-fermentation process makes it more digestible even for people with REAL gluten intolerance. Rye also contains much more phytase than any other cereal, seed or nut: phytase is an enzyme that is activated with soaking and destoys phytic acid (yes: you absorb iron and zinc from rye sourdough).

Alternatives to milk

This is not the long awaited post in defence of dairy. Not yet. Today I am speaking about milk replacements and why I would be very careful with them.

Milk replacements are juices from nuts, cereals or pulses that are write or ivory in colour and have a ratio of proteins, fats and carbohydrates that mimics that of animal milk. There are also cheese and yogurt replacements, examples are: tofu, soy yogurt and almond feta... these too have a P:F:C ratio that looks appealing.

In our culture we have been brainwashed to believe that what matters are the macronutrients and some milk/dairy replacements look pretty fine from this point of view. Unfortunately it is not the way it works, nutrient density is what really matters.

Some considerations about alternative milks:
  • Vegetable milks don't contain Vit-A, Vit-D3, Vit-K2 and Vit-B12 (all of them are of animal sources and milks are no exception).
  • Even when fortified with calcium, the same cannot be absorbed and utilised by the body due to the lack of liposoluble vitamins.
  • Even considering milk from grain-fed cows, the balance ω-3:ω-6 is still better than vegetable milks. Grass-fed milk is clearly an even healthier choice.
  • CLA is only found in animal milk (traces are found in some mushrooms).
  • Raw milk also contains enzymes and natural probiotics that are not found in milk replacements. These enzymes play an important role in the digestion of milk and in gut health.
  • Rice milk is high in sugars and pretty low in proteins.
  • Coconut milk is a fairly good replacement for heavy cream and I use it a lot in South-Asian recipes and curries. It is however just this: a thickener for sauces with plenty of medium chain triglycerides which lacks fundamental micronutrients. In other words: don't drink a cup of coconut milk for breakfast thinking "it does a body good".
  • Soy and all its products deserve a dedicated article, the health issues coming from its consumption will make you think twice before having a single serving of it ever again.

Should everybody start drinking gallons of raw full-fat grass-fed milk right away? Obviously no, I don't do it neither. My point here is that people should not drink gallons of vegetable milks thinking that they are healthier that raw milk from grass-fed animals or traditional aged cheeses (parmesan, pecorino, gruyère, asiago, cheddar, gouda... just to name a few).

One important point I cannot discuss here (but I will, in a dedicated article) regards caseins allergy, lactose sensitivity and milk intolerances in general. They exist, although much less widespread than we have been led to believe. Obviously, for those people, both milk and some types of dairy products are definitely taboo, but that should not be a green light to nut milks for the reasons I mentioned above.

Conclusions

I realize that my posts are getting longer and longer. If you arrived to the end of this: thanks, sincerely. It costs me time and effort to write them but as I see the increasing number of visits, I know I am doing a good job helping people to get oriented in the confusion that reigns in today's nutrition.

In fact I'll tell you something: you didn't need to read it all, the picture on the top is already a good summary: the food pyramid should be about eating real food, replacement are not. That's the core message of the whole article and what I hope stays after you read it.

Eat well and... stay tuned!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Approach to nutrition


Warning: this article is a bit... boring. But I feel it is required both to introduce my future posts about myth busting, and also to justify my position against those diets that are based on dogmata.

The Big Idea

Nutrition is a science which studies the interactions of living organisms and their food, the metabolic processes involved in the phases of digestion and assimilation, and finally: the ability of the body to utilise the nutrients. If everybody involved in nutrition and dietetics stitched with this, we would be doing great and reliable research in this field.

Unfortunately this is not what is happening nowadays.

There are many reasons why research in the field of nutrition keeps bringing contradictory results. Some are political, some are economical. Often money is not even involved and that's probably the most sad of the reasons: people choose a dogma and try to justify it by tweaking the researches (if they are researchers) or pretending it works if they are just adopters of a particular diet.

Why do I say that dogmatism is the saddest of the reasons? First of all exactly because there is no money involved: were they at least getting an economical advantage!!! Ok, seriously now: the problem with dogmatism is that people are lying to themselves, that's why I find it sad.

Inconsistencies of the results

Nutrition is the most controversial of sciences. There are so many ways to alter the conclusions of a study that you can prove... basically anything:
  • cherry picking of data: just decide in advance what you want to prove and choose the data that support your thesis. Notable examples are the Seven Countries Study or the more recent China Study, the manifesto of vegetarians and vegans.
  • ignoring alternatives: this is when the proponents take in consideration the current way and their way, no alternatives. The risk is that some of the alternatives are better than what is being dogmatized, so must be ignored a priori. An interesting example is the comparison between CAFO and a plant-based diet which depends on agriculture: the quality of food and the environmental impact of the second is obviously better. The proponents forget to mention that holistically managed livestock have an even better impact on the environment. Another example is how we came to the conclusion that salt causes high blood pressure (hint: the quality of salt matters).
  • bad comparisons: any diet is better than the Standard American Diet, this is matter of fact. When you read that people on a plant-based diet are healthier, the comparison is always with fast food... ever wondered why the claim isn't: people on a plant-based diet are the healthiest (hint: it is not true). The same critique can obviously be done for any other diet.
  • biases, the most common is the healthy person bias. When people decide to follow a particular regimen for health, independently which one, that's definitely not the only radical change they will do in their lifes, for example: ditching junk food, stop smoking, reducing coffee/alcohol, doing sport. Most researches are highly biased because of this, with the result that any diet do in fact provide benefits. Some researches claim that "proper adjustent have been done to take into account blah blah...". I personally find that with a pool of 30 subjects, adjustment is just another word for messing around with statistics...
  • messing around with statistics and mathematics in general: this is the most difficult to debunk and requires some analytical skills. In general, playing with numbers permits to achieve incredible results. In case you were wondering how is it possible that in order to produce 100 grams of hamburger you need to waste 2300 liters of water.
  • generalizations, this is another interesting one: saturated fats and trans-fatty acids cause cardiovascular disease. True, I myself agree. What about saturated fats alone? This is also the way milk has recently become the number one villain. I promised I was going to dedicate a post on this, and I renew my promise.
  • concentrating on the benefits while ignoring the side effects, one example is the study of the Seventh Day Adventists, they may in fact have less heart problems, but alas... have higher rates of cancer.
  • studies too short, sometimes the side effects arise after years, I am thinking for example of the hormonal imbalances caused by prolonged low-carb diets, or the deficiencies in vitamins and essential fatty acids of a 100% vegan diet. Paleo diet itself hasn't been around long enough to test its validity in the long run.
  • the case study, taken as an example that the dogma works and everybody should do the same. I already mentioned that everybody is different, and I am pretty sure that in this world there are people with genetic adaptations who can do extremely well on a high-fat diet (Inuit), or a 100% animal protein diet (Masai), or a grain-based diet (European Alps), or the grandma who lived to 116yo eating bacon every day. Even a plant-based diet may work sometimes: rare but existing, some Freaks of Nature don't become insulin resistant despite a high-carb diet, can efficiently convert carotenoids into Vit-A and ALA into DHA, and have soil bacteria in their guts that produce Vit-B12. Isolated cases are not the proof that it works for everobody.
  • relying on outdated and wrong results just because they support what we want to prove now, like considering dietary cholesterol the direct cause of high blood cholesterol and a risk factor for CVD, and come to the conclusion that butter and yolks are bad (hint: butter and yolks are healthy).
  • bad raw data... this is usually the case of studies that base their sources on phone calls or questionnaires: questions difficult to understand, question with double senses (do you eat dairy, yes I eat cheeseburgers and cheesecake), weird aggregation (do you eat red meat, bologna, pepperoni, sausages), etc.
I could probably write an endless papirus of examples (observational studies, lack of double-blind, placebo effect...), but I stop here. I wanted to present some common fallacies just to make you, the reader, aware that: yes, indeed it is possible to manipulate a research and trust me, it is done regularly.

Some words on dogmata, and conclusions

Political and economic interests drive the research in nutrition. Diets also fall victim of dogmatism.

Ethics and love for animals is a very noble thinking, but unfortunately the lack of reliable science behind a vegan choice make it a very questionable option from a nutritional point of view. I often read studies on the alleged benefits of a plant-based diet because I still want to believe that it is possible. My great disappointment is that all the researches are flawed, so the question is: if a plant-based diet is so good... why cheating?

Ditching grains and dairy a priori for dogmatic reasons is an insult to the hundreds of generations that subsisted on them, and opens the door to grotesque substitutes like breads from nut flours or nut milks, both definitely less healthy than the food they are meant to replace. But apparently that's ok, as long as the dogma is honoured.

Personally, as I already mentioned, my choice falls on Traditional Diets. I believe that, with an eye to their biochemical individuality and before trying the latest fads, everybody should first attempt to honour the diets of their own ancestors which is, just to be clear, 150 years ago.

I hope my position is clear and understood, although I don't expect everybody to share it. I wanted to publish this post anyway so that I can link back to it in future ones when I'll speak about myth busting or I will present my analysis of researches.

If you are a regular reader you probably guessed already that the post ends with a friendly: stay tuned!