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Issue #23 (September 2016)

From the Editor

Volume 1

The word “healthy” is almost meaningless when it comes to food.

Its counterpart, “unhealthy”, is a bit easier to pin down. Nobody can claim that snickerdoodles are a health food. In fact, any food with the word “snicker” or “doodle” in it fits neatly into the unhealthy category. See: Snickers candy bars, cheez doodles.

The difference between these terms is that one (unhealthy) denotes the ability to cause harm, while the other (healthy) doesn’t have a neat definition.

Let’s take the venerable apple. Yes, apples are quite satisfying, given their fiber and water content. And yes, they do contain phytochemicals which may promote health. But if you have fructose intolerance or other gut issues, which is not a rare condition in this day and age, then apples may well upset your stomach.

Are rice cakes healthy? They are often portrayed as such, and their labels are proudly emblazoned with “Low-fat and zero cholesterol!”. Well, the 1970s called and they want their nutrition advice back. Dietary cholesterol is not the devil, and neither is dietary fat. Though if you eat fewer calories’ worth of dry rice cakes than tasty potato chips, that might make them relatively more healthy. But what if the potato chips are homemade using avocado oil? Is that worse due to extra calories, or better because it’s homemade? What if you’re sensitive to nightshade vegetables like potatoes? Ackkkkk it’s all tooooooo mucchhhhhh!

So as you can see, the healthfulness of a food is highly dependent on who’s eating it. Three eggs a day may be great for one person but bad for another, depending on medical history, their gut microbiomes, and many other factors.

There is one thing that is healthy though, although it’s a drink and not a food. Water is healthy, and we all need water. There is no other liquid beverage that we need, not milk or green tea or coffee (although some people would essentially collapse without the latter). We need water, and we need food. There just isn’t a universal prescription for healthy foods that applies to all humans. Some tribes eat a ton of honey almost every day, some eat as many nuts as they can handle. Others consume mostly meat and milk, while some eat mostly plant foods.

What does this mean with regards to diet prescriptions? It means that if you see someone who claims some plant is an amazingly powerful superfood, or that low carb or high carb diets are the key for good health, you might want to shut off your ears and browse over to some actual research. No trials or credible reviews say that you have to eat any certain food, because that’s simply not what humans do. We are omnivores … some omnivores just like pushing their food preferences onto others.

Kamal Patel,
Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Examination Research Digest

Volume 2

How often do you weigh yourself? It’s not a trivial question, since daily weighing has often been shown to improve[1] weight control[2].

Given these positive results, you might think that advice to weigh yourself daily should be universal. Well, that’s probably not a good idea, for a couple reasons.

First, weight fluctuates quite a bit day-over-day, by up to five or more pounds in some cases. The variation can be due to a variety of factors, such as the changing weight of poop, pee[3], blood volume, and glycogen. So if you gain a couple pounds within 24 hours, that most definitely doesn’t mean you gained two pounds of fat.

Second, just because some studies suggest that daily weighing can be beneficial, doesn’t mean daily weighing is beneficial for everyone. Studies report on average values in populations, and that misses out on the wide differences in individual responses. So it may be a good idea for some people to weigh themselves daily, in certain situations, and it may be a bad idea for other people. Weighing yourself daily can be a habit that greatly increases awareness of bodyweight changes over time - not over the course of days, but over weeks and months. And it also lends some accountability to the weight loss process, since you can’t trick the scale (well, you technically can, as evidenced by wrestlers who weigh-in dehydrated, but that’s not the case here).

But daily weighing is a double-edged sword, and can sometimes spiral into obsessive habits. It’s already extremely easy to judge yourself based on a lack of progress in shedding extra fat. That can lead to cycles like this: you lose some weight, as evidenced by decreasing numbers on the scale, and everything is hunky-dory. Then you encounter a period of greater life stress, yearn for comfort food to calm your mind and body, but realize that the scale will know what you’re up to. So you stop the daily weighing for a week. Then you go back to daily weighing the next week, right back where you started due to a week of overeating, and hate yourself a bit more than you did before.

It’s abundantly clear that weight and self-image go hand in hand, and psychology plays a major role in weight loss. Because of that, the relationship of daily weighing to weight loss isn’t quite as clear as studies may portray it. Yes, if you were enrolled in a study and had to weigh yourself daily, it’s likely you’d lose extra weight. But in the real world, you can just stop weighing yourself once you plateau. And even when you’re weighing yourself on a daily basis, the obsessiveness that it sometimes elicits could be harmful to other areas of life. So weigh yourself daily if you feel it benefits your overall life, but don’t feel like you have to follow any particular weighing pattern because “studies say so”.

Kamal Patel,
Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Examination Research Digest

See other articles in Issue #23 (September 2016) of Study Deep Dives.