Take Me Out: Does Coconut Oil Need to Go?

Recent news is saying coconut oil is unhealthy. But is it really?

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The American Heart Association (AHA) has published an article recently that is shaking up the nutrition world.  Recently, in the news, people have been bashing coconut oil, and others have been defending it.  So what’s with all the hubbub?

The AHA article in questions showed that lowering saturated fats (i.e. butter, and animal fats) with polyunsaturated vegetable oils (i.e. olive oil and flaxseed oil) lowered the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 30%.  The AHA recommends that people follow a low-saturated fat diet for optimal heart health.  You can read the article here.

So what’s this got to do with coconut oil?  Simply put:  Coconut oil is high in saturated fats.  Many “tropical oils” are high in saturated fats.  In fact, before my hiatus to do schoolwork, I briefly wrote about this.

Fat Comparison.PNG

This is a table from a Wikipedia page on Peanut Oil.  There’s a lot of information here, but we are specifically looking at the saturated fat category.  As you can tell, coconut oil is 86% saturated fat!  This specifically is what is worrying about coconut oil.

Does this mean coconut oil is Satan and eating is is going to send your arteries straight to Hell?  I don’t think so.  Personally, I think most of the news surrounding coconut oil is a pissing contest between two sides, and for some reason people don’t like neutrality.

Dr. Willet at Harvard’s Department of Nutrition had this to say about coconut oil “what’s interesting about coconut oil is that it also gives ‘good’ HDL cholesterol a boost…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.”

What is the Punk’s advice here?  I would limit eating sources of saturated fat, like what the AHA says, including coconut oil.  Notice my word-choice though.  Limit.  Not eliminate, just make sure that you aren’t eating a shit-ton.  And this does not mean that you can’t use coconut oil in other ways, such as a lotion or in your hair, as I’ve heard people do.

I also would keep the flavor in mind.  Coconut oil has a flavor, like olive oil.  I personally would not cook my meats in coconut oil, but I would with olive oil.  However, coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so you can try making baked goods, or use it in recipes where the coconut flavor is desired.  Just be aware how much you are eating.

So what do you think?  Is coconut oil bad, good, somewhere in between?  Feel free to leave a comment!

All in the Family: Does Eating Meals with Family Decrease Obesity Risk?

I take a look at two sides on whether family meals can lower the risk of obesity.

Damn, it’s been awhile since I made a post.  Sometimes, college happens…

It’s been talked about in the field of health and nutrition that eating dinners at home might decrease the risk of developing obesity.  Cornell University’s director of the Food and Brand Lab, Brian Wansink said that where you eat, and how long it takes you to finish eating are indicators of children developing obesity.  This makes sense to me.  You spend five hours in a pizzeria, chances are you are going to eat a lot of pizza, whereas if you eat at home and eat a homecooked meal you are going to eat fewer Calories.

However, a recent article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (or a journal that has a long title about nutrition, for the less scientifically inclined people) indicated this might not be the case.  Research shows that you are not more or less likely to be obese if you eat with or without your family.  Basically, eating with your family does not necessarily decrease obesity risk.

What does this mean for you?  To start, I think both people are right in their own way.  Where you eat, and how long you eat does impact how many Calories you consume.  Eating at a place where they have unhealthy food for a long time does mean you are more likely to eat unhealthy (unless you have a cast-iron will, unlike me).  However, I think it is also right that eating with family does not necessarily mean you are eating better.

There is a factor to food and nutrition I don’t think either cover very well.  Meal quality.  I can eat a healthy meal that consists of a shitton of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and lean proteins alone.  I can also eat this when I visit my family.  I also eat a lot of unhealthy foods, because college.  I eat these foods whether I am alone or with my family.

Long story short:  Eat fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole-grains, and healthy oils, and you should be fine.

 

What do my readers think?  Would eating more meals with family reduce obesity, or should we instead be focusing more on what is on the plate?  Leave your comments below.

The Great Divide: Why Medicine Can Be Confusing

A nutrition student gives some reasoning as to why medicine is confusing.

Imagine this scenario:  Your doctor hands you some papers that you need to read and sign through.  The words are small, so you need to squint to see them.  The page just seems filled with words.  Eventually you reach the bottom where your signature is required.  How many non-medial people think to themselves “what the fuck did I just read?”

Now imagine this other scenario: you talk to your doctor after some blood work.  They talk about several problems, perhaps something with “triglycerides” or “hypertension.”  Not wanting to look stupid, you nod in agreement, despite the fact you have no idea what was just said.

These are issues real enough in medicine, that I am taking a class on how to write a document to the lay-person.  Whose fault is it that there is this breakdown in communication?  Is it your fault that you don’t understand the doctor?  Or is it perhaps the doctor’s fault for not knowing their audience?

Personally, I think it’s the latter.  The class I am taking that teaches nutrition students how to write for a lay-audience discussed that the average reading level in America is 8th grade.  Meaning that there are several people like me who can read a research article, understand what is going on in the study, and then report it back as a summary or as a point of evidence.  There are also several people that struggle with reading materials that are considered “basic.”

How can communication between medical professionals and patients be improved?  For starters, I think documents have more whitespace (the spacing around paragraphs), bigger font sizes, and definitions next to some key words.   Whitespace and larger font sizes improves readability, while definitions help people understand.  If you are unfamiliar with “triglycerides,” on a document, the paperwork can instead say “triglycerides (fat found in blood).”

Doctors and other medical professionals can also use more casual language when talking about health issues.  Instead of telling the patient they have “hypertension,” the doctor could tell them they have “high blood pressure.”  Not everyone understands medical jargon.  Simplifying the language used can help patients understand the issue and how to correct it.

In case you were curious, this blog post has a reading level of 8.9, meaning that someone who is almost a 9th grader most likely can understand this piece.  Some of the reasons it’s higher is I had to use several complicated words to explain my point.  I also have longer sentences with more than one idea, which raises the reading level.

Also, if you feel I am picking on the lay-person, keep in mind I am the lay-person in several topics.  There have been times when friends and family have talked about something outside of the food and nutrition realm and I have been like “huh?”

Any other ideas you guys have for improving the readability of documents?  Any advice a non-medical person can give to a soon-to-be medical professional to make documents easier to read?

Stay Bullet: Why I Don’t Believe in Silver Bullet Miracle Foods

Why I don’t believe the media hype involving certain foods.

Recently, Time magazine posted an article about how the spice turmeric might not be a “miracle spice” after all.  A recent research article reported that there has not been a well-designed research trial done on the spice yet.  So, what gives?  Why is this even a big issue with food?  Can’t people just enjoy their food in peace without some asshole on the internet blogging about it?

To answer the lattermost question:  No, I blog about food, it’s what I do.  Secondly, the term “miracle food” or any derivative gets thrown out there like it’s no big deal.  Anything that might have some semblance of increasing metabolism or being incredibly rich in vitamins and minerals causes media to latch on and blow up its properties to hell.  Even Googling “miracle food” turns up results that things like chocolate are a miracle food.

The issue with proclaiming foods have mystical properties can have a variety of effects.  In the best situation, some foods can be found to be beneficial, in worst cases, it can have harmful effects.  For example, news media lists several health benefits of drinking beer.  A Huffington Post article lists some of these benefits as being high in some micronutrients, such as vitamin B, and healthier aging in women because it might play a role in improving blood circulation.

Now, I love me my local brews.  Being an Oregonian, I have access to several craft beers.  Not a hipster, though, as much as I can sound like one.  However, alcohol does have several downsides.  Alcohol can be addictive, which can lead to alcoholism.  Alcohol can also cause issues with the liver, which for those of you not familiar with human anatomy, the liver is a detoxifying organ.  Alcohol also inhibits a hormone in the body that helps regulate hydration, which means over consumption of this “healthy” beverage is detrimental.

I also hate the term “miracle food” or “silver bullet to combat _____.”  Might be because I am a hypercritical douche, but that’s beside the point.  To me, the terms imply that the food is a be-all-end-all to becoming healthy.  Imagine, a world in which all you need to do is eat turmeric (a spice in curry powder) and drink beer, and suddenly you become the pinnacle of human health!

What do you guys reading this think?  Am I off base here, or is “miracle food” an overused term that overemphasizes the benefits and downplays the negatives of certain foods?

Resolution: How to Effectively Set Goals for the Next Year

A health major explains a method to better set goals.

Sometimes these puns come easy, such as talking about new year’s resolutions, and listening to “Resolution” by Emigrate.  Almost like it was meant to be.

Anyway, according to Statistics Brain, the top resolution for 2015 was weight loss oriented.  However, only 8% are successful in attaining the resolution, and 24% never succeed and fail their goals.  Why is this?  I think a lot of people simply do not know how to set goals.  “I resolve to lose weight, what is this Nutrition Punk talking about?  I just made a goal, this asshole does not know what he is talking about,” some might be thinking upon reading my statement.  But that is not an effective goal.  To set an effective one, you need to be SMART.  Fortunately for you, getting smart does not require several thousand dollars being spent on a degree.  SMART is simply an acronym for setting an effective goal.

Specific: This essentially means that your goal has direction.  “Eating healthy” is not specific, since there is no real direction set.  How do you plan on eating healthy?  If you can ask that question, then the answer is the specific part.  “Losing weight” is more specific, since it does have direction to it.

Measurable:  This is how you track progress.  For the goal of “losing weight,” this is easy to measure by using a bathroom scale.  “Eating healthy” can be modified to “Increasing produce consumption,” which is measurable by a number of cups consumed.

Action-Oriented:  This is how your goal “moves.”  The question to ask here is “am I doing anything to make a change?”  If the goal is to lose weight, then how are you?  This can be increasing exercise by going to the gym, or reducing Calories consumed.  This is the part of the goal that should require a change in some way.

Realistic:  Goals should actually be attainable, and not some “pipe dream.”  Continuing with the weight loss theme, the goal should be done in a healthy manner, so the goal of losing “10 pounds a day” is not realistic, since that requires a great deal of metabolic changes that would result in negative health effects.

Time-Oriented:  Good goals have an “end point.”  This gives a chance to evaluate and make changes as needed.  That way, if something is not working, you can change it to make it work.  Usually smaller goals set leading to a larger goal is ideal.

So, why don’t I make an example resolution following the SMART method.  Were I to attempt to lose weight (despite the fact I am fucking skinny), my goal look like this: “I resolve to lose two pounds a week by reducing the amount of junk food I eat until the end of February, then I will evaluate to see if I met my goal.”  It is specific because I have direction for losing weight, measurable because I can use a scale to see my weight change, action-oriented because I am purposely changing my diet to be healthier, realistic because this is a satisfactory amount of weight to lose in a healthy way, and has an end-point to see the effectiveness of the goal setting.

Hopefully this helps out some of you!  Feel free to share what your resolutions in the comments if you feel like it!

Change in the House of Food: The Upcoming Changes to the Nutrition Panel

A brief run-down of what changes to the food label the FDA is implementing soon.

There are some changes happening with the nutrition panel.  You know, that thing on the back of foods that you might or might not look at, depending on how much you care (or how much you want to scare yourself with some foods).  These changes come from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), citing things like updated research, better links between food and chronic disease, and easier readability.

Some of the changes include bolding the amount of Calories per serving, and removing the Calories from Fat information.  Labels still need to put fat content on the label, but research shows the type of fat matters more than the amount of Calories from eating it.  Instead of being required to list vitamins A and C on food labels, manufacturers are now required to put vitamin D and potassium on the label.  The amount of added sugars is also being listed, as it has been found that excess sugar consumption can make it difficult to reach nutrient goals.  Below is a picture highlighting the relevant information:

difference.png

© US Food and Drug Administration 2016

The label is also changing the serving size of many foods.  The serving size is now being based off of what people actually eat, rather than what manufacturers think people should eat.  This means some packages that are typically eaten in one sitting are now listed as one serving.  Other packages might have multiple columns; one showing per reference serving, and one showing per package.  To make sense of this, the serving size of soda is going up from 8 oz. to 12 oz.  A 20 oz. bottle would be labeled as one serving, because it is less than two servings.  A 24 oz. bottle would be dual columned, one for the 12 oz. serving, and one for the whole bottle, since people often consume this in one sitting.  Again, below is a picture from the FDA detailing the changes:

serving-sizes

© US Food and Drug Administration 2016

So, when can people expect this change to happen?  In July 26th, 2018, food manufacturers that make more than 10 million in sales are required to update to the new label, whereas those who make less than 10 million have until 2019 to comply.

So what do you guys think?  Is this change a beneficial one, a negative one, or something in between?

For more information check out the FDA website here.

What the F**k is Wrong with You?: The problem with Self-Diagnosing

How Googling symptoms can lead to unexpected problems

A lot of people often use online sources to find out what their problems are.  Hell, even I have done web searches to find out some illnesses I’ve had.  The problem with doing this is that you probably are not a doctor (unless you actually are a doctor of medicine, in which I shall shut the fuck up and let you do your job).  Using the symptom checkers can often lead to conclusions that are not quite logical for the situation.

For example, let’s say you ate a whole can of beans for some reason.  Hours later, you have a belly ache.  There is some pain in your abdomen, so you look up the symptoms.  It’s a sharp, moderately severe pain with a feeling of fullness.  Using the symptom checker, this person can have issues that are relatively severe, including diverticulitis (sacks that develop in the colon which then get filled with bacteria and poo), dermatomyositis (rare disease which causes muscle pain, weakness, and blotchy patches), or, quite simply, gas pains.

While it is important to monitor your health, sometimes a doctor is not needed.  If you are just farting a lot due to eating a whole lot of beans, there probably is not much a doctor can recommend, save for some anti-gas medications that you can get over the counter.  In more severe cases, like if you wound up having some blotchy patches in addition to the pain, then yeah, maybe see a doctor.

Looking up symptoms can also lead to hypochondriasis like conditions, and I know I have fallen into such trap.   An example is thinking the slight discomfort from eating the beans is a sign of severe gastrointestinal cancer.  Thinking the most severe situation after a short duration of time can lead to unnecessary doctor visits, which can add up financially when insurance gets involved.

Now, I am not saying to forgo going to the doctor for ailments, I am simply saying to be smart with it.  If the pain came from eating a whole can of beans, or if you have a sore, runny nose and it’s cold season, then it probably is not a severe gastrointestinal issue, or even nasal polyps.

So what do you guys think?  Has online symptom checkers helped find diseases you never knew you had, or did it lead to a trip to the doctor that was not needed?