Thursday, October 17, 2013

Newsflash: Rats love Oreos!

If you had the (mis) fortune to be on a low fat diet plan any time since the 1980's, you have probably been given a list of "healthy" snacks that were somehow supposed to satisfy your cravings for...whatever you were craving.  Sometimes they might have actually resembled what you were craving, and sometimes they were actually tasty foods, and sometimes they were just things that you forced yourself to eat because you (likely mistakenly) thought you were being healthy (Does anyone besides me remember Molly McButter?  Yes?  I'll wait while you stop making gagging noises).  One of those items that could be used as part of a healthy snack was rice cakes.  At 35-70 calories they are not too bad, but there really isn't any nutritional value, and they really don't have any taste by themselves.  By the time you actually add "butter flavoring," or cinnamon and sugar, or even peanut butter (used to be my favorite) to those rice cakes, you may no longer have something that's low calorie.  And if you were like a lot of my patients over the years, you'll wind up eating the high-sugar-not-so-low-calorie snack anyway.

Which is why I was interested when I saw various versions of this article appear in my news feed: Why Oreos Are As Addictive as Cocaine to Your Brain.  Really?  Let's look at the evidence and the red flags raised.

1) I couldn't find a link to the original article, but there wasn't one, as the results are to be "presented" at a conference.  So this means there was no peer review where other experts in the field could see if the study methods actually passed muster.

2) Speaking of methods passing muster, I don't this this actually would.  There was a comparison between sweet and creamy (known as having a good mouth feel) and a dry, tasteless rice cake.  If this was a philosophical argument we could safely call this a false equivalence.

3) As far as activating the so-called "pleasure center," our brains are supposed to light up when we eat foods that taste good to us, otherwise we probably wouldn't eat them.    The potential problem here is that when less healthy food is what's convenient and affordable (as well as tasty), people will probably go for that over the homemade almond flour and raw honey version.  (If you try that recipe, just try to eat two, go ahead).

4) Stating the obvious:  This study was done in rats, not humans.  This might lead up to some human studies some day, but we can't really extrapolate this beyond the rat kingdom.

5) "Addiction" also has some social implications that may not quite fit here.  In one of the versions of this article that I read I saw some commenters were (I think justifiably) outraged to see the comparison made; particularly those who had watched the lives of their loved ones destroyed by an illness such as cocaine addiction.  Is someone really going to start lying and cheating just to get Oreos specifically?  (Someone might go to all sorts of lengths to get enough food that can be eaten quickly to survive, but that's to survive, not to feed an addiction).

Take home message--There are plenty of reasons to limit your intake of oreos and other store bought cookies.  Does eating them really have the same ramifications as cocaine?  Too soon to tell.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Florida Humanists and Supper Club Advice

A few weeks ago I found out that a group that I belong to got a couple awards for our food related service projects.  I was asked if I wanted to pick up the award on behalf of Fellowship of Freethought Dallas at the Humanists of Florida Freethought Conference and I was about to decline since I knew I was going to be traveling later in the month.  Then I got a look at the list of speakers.  Not only are some of those speakers people whom I count as friends, but I saw that James Randi would be the keynote speaker on Sunday.  I felt that as a good Skeptic I couldn't pass up that opportunity so off to I went to use up some miles.

I also found out yesterday that they are offering an opportunity to purchase access to a live stream edition of the conference, so for the price of a movie ticket you too can also watch James Randi and the other big name speakers.  Go here to purchase your ticket, and if you want to add some pithy quotes to your 2014, purchase a calendar here.

One of the awards we at Fellowship of Freethought received was the "Feed the Need" award for outstanding food-related volunteering.  One of more unique events that we do is a monthly supper club for an organization called AIDS Service of Dallas.  A few years ago I was asked to write down some advice for other groups that may want to do something similar, and so here is a reblog that I did for Foundation Beyond Belief.

The Fellowship of Freethought Dallas has been participating in the AIDS Service of Dallas Ewing House Supper Club since January of 2010. The supper club consists of making a nutritious meal for residents of the home one evening a month. Many of the groups who come in are from churches but as far as we are aware FOF Dallas is the only secular group that participates. It is a fun and rewarding experience, and the patients of Ewing House really appreciate everything FOF Dallas does to keep the service friendly and the menu exciting.

For those of you who are interested in participating in a Supper Club in your own community, Melanie from FOF Dallas has the following helpful tips for you and your group!
Melanie Recommends:
  • Get a rough idea of what other groups are serving. The Ewing House has a record book where each group records the meals that they have served. They tend to get A LOT of casseroles, lasagna, people bringing in fried chicken, etc
The people at the ASD homes are very appreciative of anything brought in; however, I know they get bored with the same thing over and over. Who wouldn’t? So we try to use the cooking talents of our group to make unique meals such as stir fry, savory and sweet “pie night” and so on.
  • Create a “theme” for the menu. It helps make sure that everyone makes recipes that go together and you can use it to create a fun atmosphere. This past Thursday we had a Halloween theme and got to give out goody bags to the residents.
  • Make sure you have a sign-up sheet at that all participants do actually sign up for a particular item, that way you won’t have 5 different people bringing the same thing
  • Prepare most of the items, if not all, ahead of time so you’re ready to “heat and eat” once you actually get there.
  • For the first meal, make the foods easy to prepare, transport, and make sure the foods tend to be universally liked. Since our first experience was in January we did soups and chili; easy to make, easy to bring in a pot to reheat on the stove, and “comfort food” for many people.
  • Find out if people in the group have special dietary needs. I found out that one of the residents has celiac disease, and several of our regular volunteers are gluten intolerant as well! I know that that particular resident looks forward to a meal where he will have options that are clearly labeled.
  • Make things from scratch whenever possible. You get to try new recipes and people really do notice and appreciate the effort.
  • If you are the group leader, keep a set of supplies like serving utensils, cleaning supplies, etc. in such a way where you can easily transport them. I keep everything in several large plastic storage tubs and then I can just grab and go when our fourth Thursday of the month comes around!
  • Keep a record of the meals you’ve done and take notes on what works and what doesn’t. I’ve found that out the hard way! Even though all our meals have been successful we’ve had some meals where we ran short or ran way over on food. Fortunately we get to package up the leftovers for the “common” fridge (and they do get eaten!) so we don’t mind if we are a little over. You will want to repeat some successful themes again so that way you can make sure you have enough for next time!
  • Try to eat with the residents/people you are serving as much as you can, otherwise you get so caught up in the serving and cleaning that you forget to have fun!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Vinegar for All?

I've mentioned before that I grew up in the Pennsylvania Dutch culture, and one can't grow up in that culture without learning how to be thrifty.  Multi-use items appealed to our sense of thrift, so when someone starts spouting the many virtues of vinegar when it comes to cleaning and/or food preparation, it actually brings back fond memories of how creativity in day to day living was encouraged (creativity of thought not so much, but that is another story).  When people (like our friend Dr. Oz) start talking about vinegar being a super food, or start touting how it "cures" everything from high blood pressure to high blood sugar, then I start to wonder if some one's creativity has overstepped its bounds.  Is there any evidence that consuming vinegar on a daily basis or taking supplements can actually improve any particular health conditions?

Let's start with the somewhat good news.  If you have Type 2 diabetes, there is some evidence that including 2 tablespoons of vinegar per day (in the evening) might improve your morning blood sugar, particularly if your blood glucose readings are already in decent control (Link).   Unfortunately, most of the research done on this topic (including the linked article) includes a pretty small sample size, and we don't know if it helps with people who have poorly controlled blood sugars.  If you are already working hard at controlling your blood glucose levels through carbohydrate control (diet), exercise, and medication/insulin (if applicable) and you wanted to try adding vinegar to your regimen it probably wouldn't hurt, but we don't know how much it might help until we do more research.

When it comes to weight loss, the news it also somewhat good if very, very tentative.  Back in 2005 there was a small study (as in only 12 people) done which indicated those who consumed vinegar with their white bread felt more satiated (aka "full") after eating (and they had better blood glucose levels too).  Once again, since the study is so small we really can't extrapolate that to a larger population.  I can also hear those who are controlling their blood glucose levels with a controlled- carbohydrate eating plan saying "Why don't you just avoid the white bread?" in a fairly grumpy tone of voice, and I have to say I both agree with that statement and sympathize with those who might still want to eat white bread sometimes and minimize the damage.   There is more research to support controlling carbohydrate intake for blood glucose control than there is vinegar, however, so cheaters beware on this one.

When it comes to using vinegar to prevent cancer, lower blood cholesterol levels, or lower blood pressure (a particularly popular folk remedy among my patients), the news is only positive if you are a lab rat as there haven't been any good human studies done.  Some observational studies indicate that people who consume salad with oil and vinegar on a regular basis have a lower risk of heart disease, however, correlation does not equal causation.  Improving your intake of potassium rich vegetables can help improve blood pressure; so if you are more willing to eat vegetables when they have vinegar and a healthy olive oil on them, please do so.

If you can't resist adding vinegar to regimen to help with your blood glucose levels and/or your weight, I would suggest that you either take it straight (if you can stand it) or just add it to your food (which I personally would prefer).  Any time you take a supplement you run the risk of spending more money, taking something that doesn't even contain the listed amount of ingredients, or you take more than a person would normally be able to eat and we don't know what problems that might cause down the road.  (Safe doses do seem to be pretty high on this one at least.)

Take home message--if you use vinegar as part of your plan to increase your vegetable intake that part alone might help with your weight loss, etc, but don't expect the vinegar to help on its own.