“Forks Over Knives”: Is the Science Legit? (A Review and Critique)

22 09 2011

Welcome to my “Forks Over Knives” analysis, AKA the longest movie review you’ll ever attempt to read. Thanks for stopping by! In case you aren’t yet convinced that I’ve made it my life’s mission to critique everything related to T. Colin Campbell, this should seal the deal.

As most of you probably know, a documentary called “Forks Over Knives” recently hit the theaters after months of private screenings. Vegans everywhere are swooning, giddy that their message is now animated, narrated, and on sale for $14.99. Proud meat-eaters are less enthused, sometimes hilariously so. The film’s producers call it a movie that “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.” Roger Ebert calls it “a movie that could save your life.” I call it a movie that deftly blends fact and fiction, and has lots of pictures of vegetables. Read the rest of this entry »





One Year Later: The China Study, Revisited and Re-Bashed

31 07 2011

Lest this blog sink further into its eery two-month silence, I think it’s high time for an update!

First item of business: The Ancestral Health Symposium. Due to some serendipitous events, it turns out I’ll be presenting at this hyperventilation-inducingly-awesome event next week. My lecture is at 10:00 AM on August 6th in the Rolfe 1200 auditorium. If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, I hope to see you there, and to verify my existence for anyone who still thinks I’m a meat industry puppet. Otherwise, unless PETA pops in and sets fire to UCLA, all the presentations should be available online for free shortly after the symposium is over. Woohoo!

Second item of business: Now that he’s outed the project himself, I feel safe in announcing that Mark Sisson is going to be publishing the book I mentioned working on in an earlier blog post, and that it’ll be released mid-2012. I’m super excited, and couldn’t ask for a better publisher to work with. Or one with more impressive abs (see link above). More details to come in the near future.

Now on to the real point of this post. Read the rest of this entry »





An “I Promise I’m Not Dead” Update

6 12 2010

As much as I hate posting entries that aren’t twelve pages long and jazzed up with graphs, I’m becoming plagued with blog-related nightmares about my chronic lack of updates—so here’s a peek at what to expect really soon. All may seem calm on the Raw Food SOS front, but three things are brewing behind the recent curtain of silence:

1. The “is wheat going to give you a heart attack?” post. I’m sure my delay-apologies are bordering on parody at this point, but here’s another one anyway: Sorry it’s taking so long! I’ve been trying to get in touch with some researchers who’ve done relevant wheat/gluten/WGA work, but it seems many of them take even longer to respond to emails than I do. (I have tasted my own medicine, and it is bitter.) Nonetheless, expect to see this sucker finally up by next weekend—I’ll post whatever I’ve finished, even if it needs to become a two-parter.

2. A ridiculously huge review of every single vegan study in existence (or close to it). Even though some prominent vegan nutritionists concede that “no one has shown that you must eat a 100 percent plant diet in order to be healthy,” the vegan-versus-omnivore debate is probably never going to die. (Which is kind of a good thing—what else would we have to argue about?) So I’m compiling an analysis of all the current vegan research, including reviews of study design and evaluations of how well confounders were accounted for. I think this is a worthwhile project because:

  • As Harriet Hall of Science-Based Medicine recently pointed out, some of the oft-cited studies supporting veganism for disease reversal are either uncontrolled (like Esselstyn) or tangled up with variables like exercise and stress reduction (like Ornish). And other studies sometimes credit veganism for health improvements despite having eliminated more than just animal foods—such as this one that concludes a “vegan diet had beneficial effects on fibromyalgia symptoms,” even though the diet in question was also devoid of grains, sugar, seed oils, and processed fare.
  • I want to see whether most vegan research is really looking at the effects of diet or if it’s reflecting other (unadjusted for) health behaviors. For instance, a recent Polish study took a hard look at the lifestyle differences between vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores, and the (not surprising) conclusion was that meat-avoiders “present a higher level of caring about their health” than standard omnivores—a reality that makes it difficult to separate the effects of diet versus other pro-health behaviors in research focused on vegans or vegetarians. According to this study, 75% of vegans abstain from alcohol (versus 8% of those on a traditional diet), and only 6% of vegans use tobacco products (versus 33% for standard omnis). Vegans and vegetarians are also significantly more likely to exercise and engage in other health-promoting behaviors than typical meat eaters—resulting in a multifaceted lifestyle shift that’s hard, if not impossible, to account for in diet studies.
  • This one’s my main impetus for this endeavor. As proof of the healthfulness of veganism, many folks are citing the opening paragraph of the conservative American Dietetic Association‘s most recent vegetarian position paper, which says:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.

That sounds pretty great. But if you trudge beyond the first paragraph and actually read the whole paper (available for download here), you’ll find a less-than-glowing description of the vegan literature—including sections indicating that vegans have higher homocysteine levels, lower DHA in their breast milk, more  frequent bone fractures, higher rates of vitamin D and iodine deficiency, and pregnancies that haven’t been studied enough to draw any conclusions. I already have some other issues with the ADA, but I probably don’t need to explain how I feel when data and the conclusions drawn from it don’t match up.

3. Top Secret China-Study-Related Mystery Thing: I’d love to spill the beans on this one, but they’re not done soaking and I’d hate to flood you guys with lectins. So for now, I’ll just say that I’m working on a thing with a person, and the person and I have the goal of getting the thing published in a well-known other thing, and if all goes as planned, the published thing should help combat the “but the China Study re-analysis isn’t peer reviewed!” argument. As soon as I can say more about the thing, you’ll be the first to know.

Last but not least, Mercola has a brand new interview up with the original China Study obliterator Chris Masterjohn—and it’s a must-listen for anyone still following “The China Study” debacle. Chris does a stellar job of explaining the most important gaps and distortions in Campbell’s best-selling book, including the problems with his casein research. If you had trouble trudging through my shamelessly verbose critique or didn’t have time to read articles addressing other misleading parts of “The China Study,” this interview will get you caught up to speed. (One warning: The date on Mercola’s article is December 11, 2010—currently six days into the future. Will linking to it right now destabilize the universe? I guess we’ll find out.)

More coming soon!





New Interview and More Sucky Science

1 11 2010

I’m back from a blogging hiatus that you probably didn’t know about because I never told anyone. Sorry! But what better time to return than on World Vegan Day?

First of all: I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview at “Let Them Eat Meat” about my experience with veganism, thoughts on its healthfulness, my overwhelming adoration for the American Dietetic Association, and—because I’m forever branded as That China Study Girl—some final thoughts on a certain book we all know and love.

In case you haven’t heard, Let Them Eat Meat is the brainchild of Rhys Southan, a non-disgruntled ex-vegan who applies his stellar writing skills to the subject of veganism. If you haven’t already stumbled across this site, please stumble there now—you’ll find some fantastic interviews with former (and current) vegans, discussions of related health and moral topics, and a critical look at the arguments for avoiding animal products—including a recent deconstruction of vegan ethical tenets. Even if you don’t have personal experience with an all-plant diet, you might find the material there fascinating from a psychological perspective. So go peruse.

In other news, it looks like bad science—or at least bad reporting—is still alive and well. Case in point:

Fellas: is saturated fat lowering your sperm count? If you believe the flurry of recent articles, it sure sounds like men who eat more saturated fat have fewer—and less virile—swimmers. A Harvard study presented at a reproductive conference last week spawned some gems like these:

High saturated fat intake ‘damages’ sperm

Diets High in Saturated Fats Can Lower Sperm Count, Researchers Say

Eating saturated fat can damage your sperm

Are the meat and dairy industries actually massive government-funded schemes for population control? Is humankind’s history of meat consumption the reason we’re verging on extinction?

Interestingly, when you actually read the articles above, you’ll see that saturated fat wasn’t the only type of fat the researchers linked with sperm problems. From here:

According to the study, an increased intake of saturated fats and monounsaturated fats—which are commonly found in meats, butter, and dairy products—may result in a lower sperm concentration.

(Isn’t it cute how they don’t list the common sources of monounsaturated fat? No one wants to diss olive oil. That’s what the Mediterraneans eat!)

And from here:

The researchers found that men with the highest intake of saturated fat had 41% fewer sperm than men who ate the lowest amount of saturated fat. And men with the highest intake of monounsaturated fat had 46% fewer sperm compared with men with the lowest intake of monounsaturated fat.

I’d give the ol’ “correlation isn’t causation” reminder, but in this case, it might not even be necessary. It looks like the figures cited are the unadjusted ones, because according to this Medscape article (which has more details about the study than the others):

The association between fat intake and semen quality parameters was made with linear regression while adjusting for total energy intake, age, abstinence time, body mass index, smoking status, and intakes of caffeine and alcohol. The results showed that saturated fatty acid levels in sperm were inversely related to sperm concentration (r = −0.53); however, saturated fat intake was unrelated to sperm levels.

D’oh.

So basically, men with higher levels of saturated fat in their sperm tended to have poorer semen quality—but actual dietary intake of saturated fat wasn’t implicated after adjusting for confounders. At least that’s what I’ve pieced together from the available articles, since a quest for the original study yielded nada. Regardless, this is a prime example of the media skewing headlines to fit conventional nutrition wisdom and assuming an association between variables proves cause-and-effect.

And in case anyone’s wondering what’s going on with “The China Study” Suckypedia Wikipedia article that’s now moderated by a vegan editor: Along with pruning out all mention of my critique, gone also are the criticisms from Science Based Medicine’s Dr. Harriet Hall (here and here) as well as the fabulous critiques from Chris Masterjohn (here and here). The only one still up is a brief mention of Loren Cordain. And in case that’s not enough, the “Criticism” section has now been changed to “Reception and criticism,” so half of it is dedicated to praise.

Go figure.

And at the risk of sounding like The Girl Who Cried Wheat Entry, the wheat entry really is coming next! I promise. In the meantime, here’s a new study that shows we have microorganisms in our mouth that can actually degrade gluten. Might this play a role in how folks at risk for celiac respond to wheat? Seems possible.

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone who’s contributed to the (oft-informative) discussions unfurling on previous entries. I haven’t had time to jump in myself, but I’m grateful to all of you who’ve taken the time to share your thoughts here and engage in what has generally been civil discourse. You people are awesome.





Heart Disease and the China Study, Post #1.5

9 10 2010

First of all: I’ve got some bad news, folks.

I just learned from a highly reliable source that I am not a “private blogger,” but rather, “very likely a large scale underground defamation campaign against Dr.Campbell.” As a result, all mention of my critique—AKA the Minger Scam—has been yanked from Wikipedia’s “The China Study” page by a vegan editor there. The rationale is as follows:

Just tell me, which “private fun blogger” is able, aside of her alleged full time work and study of “English literature”, to write 36 pages of scientific responses to a professor?!! And again and again??? Either “she” is some sort of very mighty – and very mad and crazy and hate filled – genius, which in itself would be something extremely rare and highly unlikely (really, why would a pretty young girl have so much reason for such a giant ordeal, fight, all that massive work, all that hate???) … Or “she” is in reality another underground [campaign].

Whoops—my bad! I forgot females aren’t supposed to think or write stuff; we’re here to take Home Ec and vacuum in stilettos and learn how to become Good Wives:

On behalf of Minger Scam, Inc., I apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused. ;)

Now onto business.

I’ve got graphs, graphs, graphs galore, but they aren’t really relevant to the upcoming wheat post, so I’m plopping them here instead. In my first China Study critique, I looked at some mortality differences between the five counties that ate the most animal foods and the five counties that ate the least. Here, I’m doing something similar—except this time I’ll be comparing the counties with the super-highest and ultra-lowest heart disease rates and seeing what they do differently in terms of diet.

One of the incredible things about China is the vast difference in heart disease mortality between regions. One county, Fusui, has only 1.5 per 100,000 deaths attributable to heart disease—whereas another county, Dunhuang, has a whoppin’ 184. That’s even more than the US’s figure of 106.

In case graphs freak you out, here’s a summary of what’s below:

  • The healthy-hearted regions almost universally had higher intakes of animal fat, animal protein, dietary cholesterol, and saturated fat than the heart-disease-prone regions.
  • The healthier regions generally had lower intakes of fiber, light-colored vegetables, plant protein, vegetable oil, and—big surprise—wheat flour.
  • Consumption of green vegetables didn’t differ significantly between the high and low heart disease regions. Neither did smoking rates, total cholesterol, or non-HDL cholesterol, although HDL cholesterol looks slightly higher in the regions with excellent heart health.

Does this “prove” anything about diet and heart disease? Nope—there’s the curse of epidemiology again. But we can make the observation that some regions in China exhibited astonishingly low rates of heart disease while eating more animal foods than the Chinese average. And the county with the absolute lowest consumption of animal foods, Longxian, had the second highest rate of heart disease mortality out of all the counties studied. (For the record, I used the China Study II data for this, all of which is available online.) Read the rest of this entry »





Interview and Updates and I Promise Wheat is Next

29 09 2010

For anyone waiting for Wheat Post 2, sorry—this isn’t it. But it’s coming! Pinky swear!

News:

1. Killin’ la vida China Study. The fabulous Jimmy Moore recently invited me to be on The Livin’ La Vida Low Carb Show, which—if you’re not yet aware—is a podcast-goldmine not only for low carbers, but for anyone interested in health. You can listen to my interview with him here. Despite recording at 8 AM, it was a blast—thanks, Jimmy!

2. “The China Study” dies another death. Up until recently, my biggest beef with Campbell’s casein research was his attempt to extrapolate casein’s effects to all forms of animal protein, despite demonstrating that plant proteins can behave the same way. But now a bigger, stronger, beefier beef has hoofed its way into the picture. Sherlock Holmes Chris Masterjohn did some sleuthing and made some very interesting discoveries about what the casein research really showed. If you haven’t read this article yet, please do so. Now.

3. Campbell speaketh. If you’re going through Campbell withdrawal, fear not: He just published a new article over on The Huffington Post called “Low Fat Diets are Grossly Misrepresented.” You can probably guess what it’s about from the title.

I actually agree with one of the article’s implications, which is that not all “low fat” diets are actually low fat, especially in the case of clinical studies—kind of like we saw with that recent low-carb flapdoodle. A diet with 30% fat isn’t representative of Ornish any more than a diet with 30% carbohydrates is representative of Atkins, but the “low fat” label is often used by researchers to misleadingly describe a moderate fat intake.

Although my last blog post criticized the inaccurate titling of a not-very-low-carb study, the same could be said of many so-called low-fat studies. No matter what side of the diet fence you’re on, from a scientific standpoint, it’s important to be equally critical of all research and not automatically assume studies are well-designed just because their results sound good.

4. Ned Kock does heart disease. A couple weeks ago, Ned did some number-crunching on the China Study II data in relation to heart disease mortality, cholesterol, wheat, and rice. Check out his posts The China Study II: Cholesterol seems to protect against cardiovascular disease and The China Study II: Wheat flour, rice, and cardiovascular disease.

(Big apologies to those who left comments on the last briefly-existent post! I decided to delete some stuff I wrote about my “suspicious connection” to the Weston A. Price Foundation because it came off sounding snarkier than intended, but then I ended up trashing the whole thing so I could post this with a different URL.)

A more substantial wheat entry is comin’ up next.





The China Study, Wheat, and Heart Disease; Oh My!

2 09 2010

(Not only is this woefully, frustratingly, absurdly belated, but it’s also not yet finished. But I hate being a blog tease, so here’s part one!)

If you’ve been following along with the previous China Study entries (and the wild drama that ensued), you know that I’ve been promising an entry on wheat for a while now, mostly because this little snippet snagged so many eyes:

Correlation between wheat flour and coronary heart disease: 0.67

That’s a value straight from the original China Study data. Could the “Grand Prix of epidemiology” have accidentally uncovered a link between the Western world’s leading cause of death and its favorite glutenous grain? Is the “staff of life” really the staff of death? Bwah ha ha.

Read the rest of this entry »








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