Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Advocating science in nutrition

The Pollyanna Institute for Comforting Conjecture (I my have gotten the name slightly wrong) has a smear campaign going against Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI publishes Nutrition Action Healthletter, to which Shelly and I subscribe. We heartily recommend it; we have bought a number of subscriptions for our friends who are interested in current research on nutrition.

CSPI is best known for bringing to light how surprisingly unhealthy a lot of foods are, like movie popcorn and Chinese takeout. The Healthletter goes into a bit more depth, picking a topic or two a month and reviewing the science behind it. A lot of nutritional information is put out by companies selling products, and CSPI examines the supporting studies. Not surprisingly, they are often industry-funded, and the results are inconclusive, but the companies make sweeping and unjustifiable claims based on them.

The Pollyanna Institute apparently has a problem with consumers being informed about what science actually says. CSPI concerns itself with whether studies are well-designed, repeated, and conclusive. The Pollyanna Institute concerns itself with whether they can contrive some way to believe what they want to believe.

Case in point: they quote a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that claims the CDC says obesity would cure itself it kids would just exercise as much as they used to (I cannot find where the CDC says any such thing). Hey, it says what they want to believe. Never mind that it's not true — kids today consume more calories than they used to, so they'd have to exercise more than they used to. Never mind that it's easier to stop buying sugary junk than it is to change their lifestyle.

They beef that Jacobson pays only lip service to exercise (another lie), and focuses on nutrition. Meanwhile, they completely dismiss the role of nutrition, suggesting that Michael Phelps' diet is a fine model, if only we burn those calories. I wonder why they chose Michael Phelps, rather than someone who followed their advice for the longer term, like Jim Fixx? Maybe it's because Fixx died of a massive heart attack at age 52, and that isn't really the message that makes them feel comfortable. Sure, he had a family history of heart disease, but a lot of people do. Nutrition has a role to play in controlling that. Exercise clearly wasn't enough.

But if you want to eat like Michael Phelps and have his world-beating health, there are just three simple things you need to do:
  1. Be under 30
  2. Get six hours a day of strenuous exercise
  3. Have Phelps' athletic genes

You may find that to be a challenge, but you can see it's well worth it. So get out there and make it happen. Oh, steroids also help people be world-class athletes, so you might try them, too. The Pollyanna Institute's reasoning gives a pretty clear endorsement.

Some things I've learned from actual nutritional studies:

  1. Take a vitamin-D supplement. 1000mg of D3 a day is recommended. There are a lot of supplements that have not been shown to have much benefit to health. Vitamin D has. It is cheap.
  2. Take a fish-oil supplement (unless you eat oily fish several times a week). You should eat salmon and other fatty fish, too, but chances are you don't do so often enough to obviate the usefulness of a supplement.
  3. Take resveratrol. The human studies aren't complete, but the results in other critters are so astounding that it's just worthwhile.

We get our vitamin D and fish oil at Sam's Club, and our resveratrol at VitaCost.


The Mojo Bison said...

Fish oil: == heartburn if taken carelessly; also, serious questions about mercury levels being more concentrated than yummy delicious sashimi.

Resveratrol: I prefer a glass or two of a nice mostly-dry red two-three nights a week. Mrs., on the other hand, complains it makes me too frisky.

Roy said...

Congratulations on being the first commenter in my blog!

Mercury isn't soluble in oil, so they don't find much in the supplements. It's good to ask the questions, though.

While your glass of wine does have its health benefits, it doesn't contain a useful amount of resveratrol. A "low dose" is nearly 5 mg/kg of body weight. We take 220mg/day (60 at breakfast, 60 at lunch, 100 at dinner), which I guess would be a low-low dose, but it's in the ballpark.