Monday, May 20, 2013

Former Salt Expert Weighs In

"These are your kidneys on salt," explains the venerable Dr. Sharma.

This from Dr. Arya M. Sharma's Obesity Notes blog:

While I have no illusions that this [Institutes of Medicine] report [on salt] will in any way put the century old debate to rest (indeed the report calls for further research), I think that there is a much bigger message in this report that should let us tread cautiously when it comes to dietary recommendations in general. 
Let us remember that associations (on which so many of our assumptions about healthy diets depend) simply do not prove causality, even when backed by seemingly plausible biological hypotheses derived largely from rodent toxicology. We should also remember that fancy statistical predictions on the vast number of lives lost or saved by altering the population intake of this or the other nutrient, are generally based on sometimes rather heroic assumptions that may well explain whey [sic] they are rarely (if ever) borne out by actual interventions. 
Thus, whether we are talking about salt, fat, carbs, sugar, fibre, gluten, calcium, Vit D, dairy or red-meat, a degree of humility in advocating for policies and other measures to reduce or increase this or the other is generally in order. 
Seldom in the field of nutrition are things as cut and dried as some will have us believe – if only food were as simple as tobacco.

It's for these reasons, and probably more, that I think the government should reduce its involvement in creating and enforcing nutrition policies. The science is just too tenuous, and lawmakers a little too susceptible to the political machinations of nutrition activists and businesses.

I mean, barring famines, our ancestors did pretty well for themselves nutritionally, all without the aid of governments, ad agencies, doctors, personal trainers, and so forth.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not Far from Home

An artist rendering of the Meridian Idaho temple
Not far from where I grew up another beautiful Mormon temple will soon be completed. Once the groundbreaking takes place, it'll probably only be another 18 months before the temple opens to the public for an open house, after which it will be dedicated for use by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In temples we are taught about God and his plan for his children and the central role of Jesus Christ in that plan. We enter into covenants to live good, clean lives, and to serve the Lord with all our hearts.

Temples too are where Mormons aspire to be married for time and all eternity, hence Mormonism's heavy emphasis on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family. Family relationships are meant to endure, and Mormons believe in the literal fulfillment of this sentiment through the ordinances of the temple, where the the power of God to bind on earth and in heaven is manifest.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Favorite Soap: As the Pendulum Swings

It kills me, it kills me not . . .

Ah, nutrition research. So rife with controversy.

The big new study on salt, as reported in the New York Times, is important, a step in the right direction, though in itself will not end the debate.

Nutrition research investigating the effects of food components on a population's health outcomes is notoriously difficult to conduct. Thus every study, especially the epidemiological ones--as pointed out in the article--should be taken with, well, a grain of salt.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Meats

A cold-blooded killer

In the news we read that Samoa has lifted its ban on the imports of turkey tail, which was implemented in 2007 under the guise of improving public health.

Turkey tail is high in fat, and so its ban should have measurably improved the health outcomes of Samoans, right? Was anyone prescient enough to begin a longitudinal study to examine this question? Here we had, in essence, a government-sponsored clinical study handed to us on a plaited coconut-leaf platter, and what have we seen?

What's interesting to me is that fat alone is unlikely the culprit of the Samoans' high obesity rates. Samoans always had a fatty diet from the abundance of coconut milk they consume. (And coconut fat is primarily saturated fat, no less.)

So why single out turkey tail (and, apparently, mutton flaps) for regulation, and not, say, soda, which in Samoa comes in 750 mL bottles, or other sources of refined carbohydrate? 

(Don't get me wrong, I'm not in favor of using the strong arm of the government to ban any foods, fatty or sugary. Government intervention has hardly solved our nutrition problems in the United States, I doubt that model is going to work elsewhere.)

If we look at the transition in Samoans' diet from traditional to modern, it's the combination of high fat with high refined carbohydrate intake--and not the fat per se--that is likely the culprit.

Turkey tail and mutton flaps are merely nutritional scapegoats, easy targets for nutritional activists, and not the actual cause--as is claimed--of Samoans' (and other Pacific Islanders') health woes.

Likely a celebration of the return of turkey tail and mutton flap to Samoa

(Photo credits: Jules Food and NiuZila)


Monday, May 13, 2013

New Atheist Delusions

I once perused Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, and I've long wanted to post about my impressions that he is, at best, a very shallow thinker when it comes to religion, and that those who buy into his arguments aren't thinking any deeper than he is.

Gregory L. Smith provides us with two recent posts (here and here) that sum up much of what I would have said, that is, had I the time and resources and intellect to do it. They're both worth reading.

Today the pendulum swings, perhaps, in the direction of the New Atheists and their disciples, tomorrow it swings away from them.

But God's existence or nonexistence has never depended on our opinions into the matter. It is not His existence that is on trial, it is ourselves.