Take Me Out: Does Coconut Oil Need to Go?

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

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!

Halo on Fire: What is the Health Halo?

I discuss a marketing tactic trying to get you to buy products based on health merits.

I think it’s time for me to get up off my ass and do some writing for my blog.  Instead of getting on my ass and writing for my assignments?  That doesn’t sound quite right, but whatever.

First, let me take you on a mystical, magical tour of going to a grocery store in America.  The first step is getting in a car.  Along the way, you pass by a restaurant promoting that their meats are “Antibiotic Free.”  Another restaurant proudly proclaims that they do not use GMOs in their meals.

While in the grocery store, there are many products available for any type of food you can imagine.  Foods labels promote the item inside as being “gluten-free,” or “reduced fat,” or any other label variety you can imagine (and label claims you can’t).  All these products are exhibiting what is called the “health halo.”  The health halo is more of a lose term, as a quick search online does not directly tell you what it means.  From what I have gathered, it means a food item is marketing itself as being a healthy choice, or at least a healthier choice, when compared to other products.

So what?  Why is this a big deal?  Well, for starters, this can skew consumer choice, which is what food companies want.  Organic food items sound healthier than conventional produce.  Organic products might have less antibiotic resistant bacteria on meats, or more phosphorous and omega-3 fatty acids, when compared to conventional products.  These health benefits can be eliminated though, if the product is something unhealthy, like in a candy.  Organic cane sugar is still added sugar.

As with the restaurants promoting antibiotic-free meat, or non-GMO ingredients in their meals, these phrases do not indicate things about how healthy the food is.  You can have antibiotic free, non-GMO meats and cheeses in a product, use only the finest of gluten-free flours to make breads, and any other health buzzword out there, and still wind up with an unhealthy product.  In the case of restaurants, assuming the meal IS in fact healthy, you can undo the health effects.

This begs the question:  Why should I care?  If you just want to eat whatever food, no amount of blog posts are going to change your mind.  However, I am focusing on those who will learn and become more aware.

So how can you avoid the “health halo?”  I recommend buying raw ingredients, like fruits and vegetables.  Reading the Nutrition Facts panel is also helpful.  Look for things like Calories, and added sugar.

Spirit: Understanding Your Alcohol

A brief overview of some alcoholic beverage terms, and some cautions.

Wow, yet another blog post title that wrote itself!  Thanks Ghost!

Alcohol is one of the beverages I enjoy in moderation (might have to do with the fact I am still young).  When I drink, I typically have are beer, vodka, and whiskey.  I sometimes drink tequila if I feel like spending a bit more.  Talking with my peers, I am unique in the fact I take my drinks straight.  I don’t add anything to them, just add the liquor into a glass and drink it.

Instead of discussing my choice of poison, I am going to give some loose definitions for different kinds of ethanol-infused solutions.  My information comes from a few quick searches online, and from one of my nutrition classes.

Alcohol Proof:  This is how “strong” the drink is.  Proof is measured as twice the alcohol by volume (ABV) amount in America.  Meaning a 100-proof drink is 50% ethanol.

Beer:  This is an alcoholic drink made with fermented grains with hops added for flavor, and slowly fermented with yeast.  A typical serving of beer has somewhere between 5-9% ethanol.  A standard serving is 12 fluid ounces.  Some beers are stronger, so keep that in consideration when drinking, as these have a much smaller serving size.

Wine:  This is a fermented grape drink.  Sometimes other fruits are fermented to make different wines, but this is a looser interpretation of wine.  Wine typically has 12-17% ethanol.  A serving size is 5 fluid ounces.

Spirits (liquor):  These are drinks that are made, and then distilled to have a higher proof/ABV.  Any alcoholic beverage with more than 20% ABV is considered a spirit.  Drinks like vodka, tequila, and whiskey are considered spirits.  A serving of these is 1 to 1.5 fluid ounces.

Some of you might be wondering what is considered a “safe” amount to drink.  One drink a day for women, and up to two drinks a day for men is considered safe, according to mayoclinic.com.  Now, this does not mean you have to drink this much.  It is healthier to drink as little as you can.

Ethanol, even when drank responsibly can pack a lot of Calories, as 1 gram of ethanol contains 7 Calories (compare this to 1 gram of fat with 9 Calories).  This is not even considering mixed drinks, which have even more stuff added that increases the number of Calories per serving.  Not to mention there is an age restriction in the United States, so anyone under the age of 21 probably should not drink alcohol anyway.

What kind of drinks do you guys out there enjoy (if you are legal, that is)?  Anyone abstain from drinking alcohol at all?  If so, would you like to share why in the comments, provided it’s not too personal (don’t want to make things awkward for you guys!)?

Valentine’s Day: The Heart You SHOULD Care About

I use the holiday to discuss heart health.

Oh yeah, my calendar indicates that it is the 14th of February.  Meaning that today is the day of love or some other bullshit that the corporations came up with to get you to buy cheap candies, cookies, wine, etc.  Because we cannot clearly show love without spending a shit-ton of money on frivolous crap, I say cynically.

Valentine’s day is closely associated with the heart shape.  But I don’t give a damn about that heart.  The hearts I care about are more internal.  And on the left side of the body.  I’m talking about that blood-pumping motherfucker.

The American Heart Association has a set of recommendations to take care of the four-chambered beast contained inside of your flesh prison.  They are:

  • Eat enough Calories, but not too much
  • Be sure to exercise for at least 150 minutes a week at moderate intensity
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (like low-fat dairy, skinless poultry, fish, beans, tofu, and legumes), and nuts
  • Limit saturated-fats, trans-fats, sodium, red meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Be sure the foods you eat are high in nutrients
  • Moderate alcohol consumption, for those of legal age. None if you are underage

The guidelines set up by the AHA are a good rule of thumb for anyone to follow.  The diet they suggest has benefits for everyone.  The older population can minimize the damage a longer life has caused, and younger populations can help prevent the damage to the heart and vessels.

Some of these foods increase blood pressure, meaning your heart must work harder.  This can lead to several problems in the future, involving issues with the vessels in the kidney and the brain.
For any of you out there who are sad I rained on your plans to drink a bunch of wine with your significant other, don’t be.  If you care about your heart (and your liver, and brain, etc.) perhaps you would rethink your plans for romance?  Or not, it is your choice after all!

So what did you guys think?  Did you have to rethink your Valentine’s Day plans after reading my post?  Feel free to leave a reply below!

Deathbread: A Post on Fun and Family Nostalgia

College student in nutrition discusses the importance of fun with food, and culture

First, let me just say Combichrist song titles make great blog titles, and great carbohydrate puns.

Second:  I am not a baker.  But that did not stop me from making and having fun while making bread.  I was going crazy with doing new things, like a 3-braided loaf, and then a 5-braided rope with cinnamon and sugar.  I think the fun-factor is a component many nutritionist and dietitians miss when discussing food.  Saying I like food is an understatement.  I mean, I am making an entire fucking career out of it.  I like eating new foods sometimes, especially new produce.  But I know not everyone enjoys food as much as I do.

There are many people unable to eat healthy from a mental point.  It could be the flavor of the foods, the stigma behind eating healthy (which does not really seem to exist in urban American West Coast places), or some other reason causing people to be unwilling to do new things with food.  Plus, things like prepackaged or fast foods are quick, cheep, and easy.  The Deadly Trifecta, I call them.

In behavioral psychology, there is Exchange Theory.  In shorter terms, the benefits from doing something must outweigh the costs.  For me, the outcome of having fun while making bread was worth more than the fear of failing to make it correctly, or the costs of materials and time.  For others, not so much.  I think one of the ever-expanding roles a dietitian should try to do is show people food can be fun when opposition arises.  Sometimes it takes a bit of imagination to turn cooking and/or eating healthy something to dread to something to look forward to.

Another thing a lot of dietitians need to be aware of is the culture of the people you deal with.  Foods that are acceptable and palatable in one environment might not even be feasible in another.  An example we had in class was with an Asian woman and a dietitian.  She was seeing the dietitian after being diagnosed with diabetes.  Her meal was very rice heavy, and she had sodas with dinner.  In the “bad” scenario, the dietitian was unrelenting with recommending brown rice instead of white rice, despite her resisting every step of the way.  She was not in charge of making food, only eating it.  He was not aware of her culture, and that caused her to be uncomfortable.

Now, when I made bread, I posted about it online for my friends and family to see.  I was getting notifications left and right from my relatives and friends.  It’s cool that my friends and family appreciate my love of food, but I was NOT expecting to have as wide of a response as I did.

At least with the older generation of people in my family, homemade bread is a big thing.  My grandma used to make homemade bread.  My mother even told me that she had fond memories of breaking into the fresh loaves of bread and eating the end slices with her mother-in-law and eating them with butter.

To wrap things up, I think that medical personnel need to understand that discussing health is not enough.  Sometimes one’s culture makes it difficult to change food behaviors, and sometimes it’s the patient’s own mentality that prevents the change.

What do you guys think?  Any cool food stories?  Any stories about the foods served in your family?  Feel free to comment them 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?