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Issue #32 (June 2017)

From the Editor

Volume 1

Growing up, I made fun of picky restaurant eaters. You know, those people who are always asking for substitutions, requesting information on what specific ingredients are in a dish, and in general being pests.

Each decade after childhood, I became more sympathetic to these people, and eventually adopted some of their characteristics.

Not caring much about what you eat … that’s a young person’s game. As you get older, or if you’re unlucky, diet becomes more likely to influence your day-to-day health and wellbeing. Years of suboptimal daily habits combine with aging cells and organs, and get a boost from unlucky events that pop up throughout life. You typically don’t get more resilient as you age, and you often get MUCH less resilient.

If you’re really strict about what you eat, your friends and family aren’t likely to understand why. It could be as simple as feeling a bit better, and as complex as elimination diet experiments to address a chronic disease. If you feel terrible after eating spicy food, people will chalk up your preferences to “so you don’t like spicy food, huh?”. As if taste preferences are the only possible reason someone would avoid spice.

And then there’s the extreme end, where some people just don’t want to eat out because it’s not in their modus operandi. In my grandparent’s generation, eating out was exceedingly rare to nonexistent. When they immigrated to America as senior citizens, I can only imagine how ridiculous the strip malls with their endless restaurant chains looked. Why not just make food at home? It’s cheaper, healthier, more customizable, etc etc.

Of course there actually are great reasons to eat out. In modern society, we have access to dishes from around the globe, on demand, with no almost effort required. The first time I ate Burmese food, I knew I was going to need more Burmese food later that week. Cuisines from around the globe have had eons to perfect their dishes, and we’re the beneficiaries.

At the crux of the eating out issue is the cheap ass ingredient list in many eating establishments. They typically take a cheaply-sourced protein, such as chicken from a factory farm, cook it in cheap vegetable oil, and surround it with a cheap starch and a few accoutrements. Some places bump it up to ‘free range’ chicken (which isn’t nearly as idyllic of a chicken life as most people would imagine), but still cook it in cheap vegetable oil.

Eventually I came up with a simple plan for eating out. When I find a restaurant that actually has quality food without exorbitant prices, I go there all the dang time. Is it crotchety or snobby to avoid places with lower quality food? Maybe, but it’s your body that’s being impacted and your money that’s being spent.

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

Volume 2

The word “healthy” has morphed into a problem word: misleading at best, and harmful at worst.

People often ask me questions like “Is milk healthy?”, “Is low-carb healthy?”, etc etc. The word itself isn’t much of an issue, as it simply connotes health-promoting qualities. Rather, it’s the dichotomous outcomes that are often assumed: either a food is healthy, or it’s unhealthy. Or sometimes an intrepid conversationalist will point out “everything in moderation!”, whereupon everyone nods their collective heads in agreement.

This makes misleading headlines even more misleading. If people read anything about red meat, they’ll take it as “red meat will kill you” or “red meat is amazing”, and not much in between.

But beyond that, academic research agendas have become amazingly dichotomized. Few major labs delve into exploratory analyses, or comparative analyses between multiple common foods/diets/nutrients. Rather, the almost explicit aims seem to be finding new benefits of Food X, finding new detriments of demonized Food Y, or reconfirming previous findings but in new populations or circumstances.

So how does one combat the “Is this healthy? Is that bad for you?” kind of mentality? Baby steps. You don’t control public health policy, nor do you run large research studies (well, there is a small chance you might). But you have dozens of friends and family members who know less than you about nutrition, and possibly a small number of those may be open to suggestion.

A good example food group to start with is dairy. Humans have been eating dairy and raising dairy animals for eons. But a sizable number of humans don’t digest lactose well, and others have non-lactose issues, with casein or some other component of milk-based products. Eggs are a somewhat common allergen, and can also cause digestive distress outside of allergic responses.

But none of that means dairy products can’t be healthy. Both eggs and milk can provide a variety of nutrients, including some that aren’t widely available at high levels in other foods (such as vitamin K2 and choline).

The pro and con list for different foods can be quite long, and is also typically incomplete. Nobody knows the health impacts of spicy foods, for example, in different people and different disease states. Beans are a staple food for many, but cause digestive havoc for others. Some people absolutely love kombucha, while others feel mildly sick from drinking it.

The unfortunate truth (or is it fortunate?) is that very few if any foods are “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Humans don’t eat acutely toxic foods much in modern times, like unprocessed cassava or improperly prepared fava beans. The foods we do eat tend to have a variety of health-promoting and health-detracting properties, which can vary based on health status, genetics, and too many other variables to count. This message might not be simple enough to spread to the masses, but if it spreads to a few people around you, that’s a useful baby step.

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

See other articles in Issue #32 (June 2017) of Study Deep Dives.