Where we get fit and spin (wool)

Posts tagged ‘coconut oil’

Can You Believe What You Read?

I tend to be a skeptic. People often take a bit of a story, and make a whole different story out of it. Here is a case in point. I read this article “Why is Everyone So Nuts About Coconut Oil“, by Rachel Tepper, whose point was “coconut oil is good for you”. She did say in the last paragraph to use it sparingly, citing another article,”Ask the Doctor: Coconut Oil” from Harvard Health Publications. I just want to contrast a paragraph from each article.

From Rachel’s article:

Our verdict? You can buy the hype about coconut oil.

From the Harvard article:

But, for now, I’d use coconut oil sparingly. Most of the research so far has consisted of short-term studies to examine its effect on cholesterol levels. We don’t really know how coconut oil affects heart disease. And I don’t think coconut oil is as healthful as vegetable oils like olive oil and soybean oil, which are mainly unsaturated fat and therefore both lower LDL and increase HDL. Coconut oil’s special HDL-boosting effect may make it “less bad” than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it’s still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease.

To be fair, Rachel did state to use it sparingly, “like any other oil”, right before she said we can buy the hype. I also think it’s funny that a doctor who studies the health effects of food says soybean oil is better, as all the hype now is demonizing soy. Oh, I forgot, doctors are all short-sighted, evil or in the pocket of the corporations. (Always demean those that disagree with you).

I hate to make nutritional information any harder for people. There is SO much partial information, hype and hysteria about food right now. What I hope you take from this is that everything you read and hear if filtered through people. People with biases and emotions. If you are on the paleo bandwagon, you will only hear positives about coconut oil and saturated fat. If you are vegan or vegetarian, there are plenty of studies that will support the benefits of eating less meat and saturated fat. Food is not magic or evil.   If one way of eating was so much better than any other, we would have ample evidence, since there are so many people, eating so many different ways. We can see the “Western Diet” does have serious hazards, and large amounts of processed foods are linked to health problems. But does every octogenarian eat a paleo or vegetarian or even whole food diet? If so, adopt that diet. However, I think they are eating a variety of diets. Health is strongly influenced by our choices, but not all those choices are about food. Look at George Burns, he certainly didn’t follow any of the current diet trends, and he lived to 100.  One of the biggest factors is just don’t eat too many calories. All diets that cause weight loss result in improved health markers.

We are deeply influenced by peer pressure. If everyone around us is saying something is great, we will tend to think that way. However, what are they basing their support on? Do you know the difference between an article and a study, published in a peer-reviewed journal? Does the person you are taking advice from know the difference?

I just read the book behind another highly hyped diet, and while I don’t think the diet is awful, the book is. They are claiming their diet can cure illness. In fact, lots of illnesses. Any diet or product that claims that is automatically suspect. While diet has a role in many illnesses, illnesses don’t all have the same etiology, and they don’t all hinge on diet. Cleaning up you diet, exercising and losing weight will make you feel better, but it won’t cure you, unless your illness is caused by diet, like hypertension or type 2 diabetes. I’m not naming the book, as I don’t want to debate it in this article.

Use common sense, don’t get caught up in hype, don’t look at food as magic or evil, use caution when reading. Did I forget anything? Oh, eat your veggies, everything else in moderation.

There’s One Born Every Minute…

And your evidence is?

I was a strange kid, instead of reading romance novels or whatever passed for kid lit in our day, I read books written by naturalists and zoologists.  This gave me a strong bent towards science. During my teen years, I got interested in the occult, and read books both embracing it and debunking it, which led to a habit of always trying to find both sides of the story. I say all this to tell you that whenever a new health craze comes out, I’m interested, but skeptical. I like to wait and see what evidence supports the new claim(s). When faced with some new diet craze or exercise fad, I try to apply some common sense principles to cut to the heart of the matter.

  • Could applying this hurt me?
  • How costly is it?
  • How does it fit in with the general body of knowledge?
  • Does it contradict things I know to be true?
  • Does it claim too much?

So, if a new claim comes along, if it won’t hurt, isn’t costly, and I can’t see anything glaringly wrong with it, I might give it a try.

Real Life

So now that we’ve laid the framework, lets look at some real examples. This post was prompted by a Washington Post article stating that there is little evidence that alkaline water promotes health claims. I had heard some ads for the water treatment devices, and they are very costly. Like most of these things, they start with word of mouth advertising, along the lines of multi level marketing. Right away, anything that is sold that way makes me very leery. Especially when the people selling it are “true believers”, coming across like converts to a religion. The whole idea of acid imbalance in your body flies in the face of science. Your body is very delicate, and very good at regulating itself. That is part of why your electrolytes are so important, calcium buffers the ph in your blood, so it doesn’t get too acid when conditions warrant it. So getting back to my principles, it violates three of the 4 , as it won’t hurt you to drink it.

Some Fads go Mainstream

Lets look at some recent fads that are gaining traction. Low carb diets, vegan diets, gluten free diets, coconut oil, and blenders. Low carb diets started with Atkins, and have gone through many permutations. I don’t recommend any of the more extreme forms, and I don’t think they are a lifestyle diet, which is the real goal of a “diet”, to created a daily way of eating that benefits your weight and health. However, any diet that gets you to eat less white flour and sugar isn’t too bad. Just when they say to cut carrots- that’s getting foolish.

Vegan is popular, and it is too extreme to be very healthy. You can’t do it without modern supplements for your B vitamins. Also, any diet that extreme makes most people fall off it rather quickly. Done wrong, without paying close attention to the nutritional value of what you are eating, it can be very harmful.

Gluten free is one that I think will fade over time. There are a percentage of people who are gluten intolerant. It can be tested for. The rest are on a bandwagon. Most of the health benefits people claim who are not suffering from celiac disease come from cutting the empty carbs, which does benefit everyone. Cut baked goods- cookies, pie, pastry, bread- out of your diet and you’ll see the same benefit.

Coconut oil is now touted as the cure-all for everything. I’ve even started allowing a small amount into my diet, and will see if my cholesterol jumps next time. I doubt it does everything people say it does:

The health benefits of coconut oil include hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength. These benefits of oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and soothing properties.

That is from organicfacts.com. That goes against the last principle, of claiming too much.  I’m trying some, without going nuts on it in case it proves not to be true. I look at that one like vitamin D. Right now, people are claiming way to much for one lowly vitamin. Do I think vitamin D is good? Of course, but to hear some people talk, it is the cure for anything that ails you. All diseases don’t have the same root cause, so all can’t be cured by the same product.

People are buying blenders for their health. Think about it. You can’t eat these foods unless they are predigested? Sorry, I like blenders, but if you need a $500 blender to eat strawberries and spinach, there is something wrong. I blend my kale in a $25 bullet knockoff every morning and it turns out fine. Besides, I like chewing my food. The only reason I blend my kale is it is kind of tough, especially in my oatmeal. I wouldn’t do that if I was sautéing it. Enough said.

So, every time a new product, diet, or any other type of fad comes out, hear it out, weigh it against what you already know, and decide if the proposed benefits out weigh the risks. Just remember – the person selling it is a true believer, and often is making money off it, so of course they are all on board. Also, before you go buying products to improve your health, look at your baseline – what is your current diet and exercise regime? Could you just improve that, rather than go to some extreme diet?

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