Can we all calm down about coconut oil?

I’ve gotten several emails from readers asking me to respond to a viral video in which a Harvard (Harvard!) professor asserts that coconut oil is “pure poison.”

It’s hard to imagine how someone with such a prestigious pedigree could make such as silly and sensational statement in public. Presumably she was pushed over the edge by the ridiculous claims that some people have been making about coconut oil lately.

Can we all just calm down about coconut oil?

Coconut oil is not pure poison. On the other hand, it’s also not going to make you smarter, thinner, younger, or fold your laundry for you.

Proponents of coconut oil make a big deal out of the fact that coconut oil is rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). But, as I discussed in my podcast episode on MCTs, claims for these specialty fats tend to be exaggerated or unproven.

Coconut oil haters such as this Harvard (!) professor mostly object to the fact that coconut is is almost 100% saturated fat. But, as I discussed in my recent podcast episode on butter, saturated fat in moderation may even have some heart health benefits.

Despite saturated fat’s rehabilitated reputation, I still think it makes sense to limit saturated fat intake to around 10-15% of calories, if for no other reason than to leave room in the diet for other healthy fats. But if you want to spend your sat fat allowance on coconut oil, I see no reason to call in Poison Control.

Where does fat go when you lose it?

Pride goeth before a fail.

When I saw this headline earlier this morning, I clicked through (Mission accomplished, headline writers) and skimmed the article, which seemed to contradict the basic facts that we all learn in nutritional biochemistry. Having not yet had my coffee (yes, I’m making lame excuses), I impulsively posted it on Facebook with a “Shame on you, CNN” comment.

Fortunately, my followers are smarter than I am…and are not afraid to tell me so. So, let me try this again, appropriately humbled.

Let’s Play Biochemistry Gotcha!

Had I been one of those-who-should-know-better surveyed by the authors, I too would have fallen into the trap and said that fat is converted into energy (with water and CO2 as byproducts). But this is not quite accurate. Continue reading “Where does fat go when you lose it?” >

Can collagen supplements make your skin younger?

There’s a lot of buzz about collagen peptide supplements these days. Collagen is a structural protein present in the skin, joints, hair and nails. The gradual loss of collagen as we age can make the skin look less plump. The idea is that collagen supplements can replace some of that lost collagen and improve the look of the skin.

Assessing the effectiveness of skin care products or supplements is notoriously difficult. For one thing, it’s difficult to isolate the effects of any particular cream or pill. The condition of our skin surface can be affected by diet, hydration, sun exposure, temperature and humidity. It’s also really hard to be objective about what we’re seeing in the mirror.  So how do we know whether these supplements are actually working? Continue reading “Can collagen supplements make your skin younger?” >

Is IV Nutrition Worth a Try?

Will IV Therapy improve your health?

If you have a confirmed deficiency of a specific nutrient, or a condition that prevents you from absorbing nutrients  delivered orally, IV nutrition might make sense. And if you were severely dehydrated, an IV can be an efficient way to deliver fluids.

But I have grave reservations about these “IV therapy” clinics that are springing up and pumping people full of nutrient cocktails.  Although it’s promoted as everything from a hangover cure to energy booster to anti-aging therapy, most of the claims are not supported by evidence and may even be unsafe.

IV fluids may help relieve some of the acute symptoms of a hangover (many of which are due to dehydration), but won’t counteract the other harmful effects of drinking too much. More questionable are the alleged benefits of the vitamins, minerals, and other compounds used in IV therapy.

Supplying nutrients in excess of the body’s needs will not make your cellular processes work better or faster, any more than over-filling your gas tank will make your car run faster. High doses of antioxidants can even shut down the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms.  There are also general risks associated with any IV therapy, such as infection or hematoma.

Those administering IV therapy may be well-meaning but uninformed, or they may simply be out to make a buck. Given the lack of regulation and oversight (and research), I think I’d steer clear.

What is the Sirtfood Diet?

Will there ever be an end to silly new diet trends?

The Sirtfood Diet is the latest to cross my desk and, boy, is it a doozy.

The premise is that certain foods increase the activity of sir ruins in your body. Sirtuins are special proteins which allegedly have all sorts of beneficial effects, everything from fighting inflammation to preventing cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, all the way to reversing aging and extending lifespan.

The Sirtdiet protocol consists of lots of green smoothies and other meals made from “sirtfoods,” which include capers, celery, cocoa powder, green tea, kale,  parsley, onions, strawberries, turmeric, and walnuts.

Nothing wrong with those foods.  But there is a lot wrong with this diet.

First, the claims for this diet are not only unproven, they verge on the preposterous. Although sirtuins are an area of promising research, what we don’t know about them far exceeds what we do know about them.

Even if we did know more about how sirtiuns promote health and longevity, the idea that these foods will increase sirtuin activity is pure speculation.  These foods are rich in poloyphenols, compounds that might boost sirutin activity. Then again they might not. We’ll have to get back to you on that.

The other problem with this diet is that it is designed to produce extreme (and extremely fast) weight loss. As you’ve heard me say before, dieting is counter-productive. Extreme dieting is extremely counter-productive.

I bet a lot of these so called “sirtfoods” are already in your diet. Stay the course! And some of the “sirtfood” recipes I’ve seen look delicious. Feel free to add them to your repertoire. But the actual Sirtfood Diet protocol? I’d pass on that if I were you.

Do phytates fight cancer?

Jennie writes:

“I read a book on plant-based diets that which cliams that the phytates in whole grains kill cancer cells. Do whole grains really fight cancer?”

Ironic, isn’t it? In some corners of the nutrition world, the phytates in grains and legumes are reviled as “anti-nutrients.” In other circles, they are heralded as cancer killers.

In fact, both are true. Phytic acid in nuts, whole grains and legumes can bind to minerals like calcium and magnesium and reduce absorption of these minerals.  This effect can be greatly diminished by soaking, sprouting, or cooking these foods. But if you’re not soaking or sprouting your grains, don’t worry.  It’s unlikely to lead to mineral deficiencies.

In fact, the health benefits of phytic acid from whole grains and legumes appear to be much more significant than any downside.  In addition to building strong bones, lowering cholesterol, and removing heavy metals from your body, phytates may help prevent cancer (colon cancer in particular).

It’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of things that kill cancer cells.  But killing cancer cells in a petri dish and impeding the progression of cancer in a living organism are two entirely different things. Phytates are not effective chemotherapy. But they have been found to reduce the effects of actual chemotherapy in cancer patients.

Sugar and Cancer: What’s the Connection?

Whenever I talk about cancer and diet, I try to debunk the myth that eating sugar makes cancer grow faster. I explain that all cells, including cancer cells, use glucose (sugar) to fuel their metabolism. Cancer cells often have an accelerated metabolism and utilize blood glucose at a faster rate than other cells. But it’s a gross over-simplification to say that consuming sugar will make cancer grow faster or that eliminating sugar will slow the growth of a tumor.

So imagine my surprise to see a recent headline in Newsweek about a new study published in the prestigious science journal Nature.

Despite the provocative headline, however, this study has absolutely nothing to do with how sugar from foods affects cancer cells. The research explores how some cancer cells differ from healthy cells in the way that they metabolize glucose. This is undoubtedly important to cancer researchers. But it does not add to, subtract from, or change in any way what we know about the interaction of diet and cancer.  

The link between sugar consumption and cancer risk is more indirect.  Excessive sugar consumption often leads to obesity, which increases cancer risk. But it’s the excess body fat that is the problem, not the source of the calories that caused it. 

This is important to cancer researchers, but it doesn't change what we know about diet and cancer. Click To Tweet

There are a lot of good reasons to limit our consumption of added sugars.  Limiting these empty calories can make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. A diet that’s lower in added sugars is also likely to be higher in nutrients. Both can help to reduce your risk of cancer and/or improve your chances of beating it.

But the last thing a cancer patient (or survivor) needs is to stress about whether eating too much sugar may have caused their cancer or made it more aggressive. Neither is true.

See also:

Can the Right Diet Prevent Cancer?

Diet Recommendations for Cancer Survivors

 

Onyx Sorghum: Superfood or Nutrient Zapper?

Photo by Jennifer Blackburn for the National Sorghum Producers

Q. I’ve been seeing ads for Onyx Sorghum, specifically its use in certain cereals. This supposed “miracle” grain apparently contains a lot of antioxidants. However it looks like the high tannin content might affect iron absorption. Could this whole grain fit into a healthy and balanced diet or might it do more harm than good?

A. Sorghum is a whole grain that we’ve hearing more about lately.  Onyx (or black) sorghum is a special type of sorghum that is a dark red or black color intead of the usual pale beige.  It was created by plant geneticists at Texas A&M, who used traditional cross-breeding techniques and not genetic modification to create the richly hued grain.

As with berries and other plants, the pigment that gives onyx sorghum its distinctive color also happens to be rich in antioxidants. However, some of those antioxidants are in the form of tannins, bitter compounds that are also found in tea, coffee, wine, and other plants.  Tannins, in addition to acting as antioxidants can interfere with the absorption of iron and other minerals. Do the benefits outweigh the potential downsides?

 

Continue reading “Onyx Sorghum: Superfood or Nutrient Zapper?” >