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    • gorudy

      I just read the graham cracker story by Chris, it reminded me of the question whether calories are a useful metric.

      What would be a better indication of the nutritious value of the food we're consuming?

      Obviously one twinky does not = 1 apple and 1 bag of chips does not = a serving of beans but they use a common scoring system and might even appear to be tied in the number of total calories.

    • xorius

      This is a tough one. One of the things that is great about calories is that you can mostly take them in a vacuum. I need to eat X calories a day, and I will hit my weight goal. If we take calories out of the equation, and just focus on 'This food is good', you can end up way under eating, or even overeating.

      This is something that Weight Watches has been trying to solve for years with their point system. You can eat as much fruits and vegetables as you want, but then something deemed unhealthy like a donut will cost a lot of points to eat. I personally feel like this is a good tool to teach beginners how to eat the "right" kind of food, but it ends up coming back to calories for more experienced people.

    • Chris

      It's a fascinating question. There is a doctor with a pretty big following who wrote the book Eat To Live, which has 4,800 Amazon reviews, and who devised a nutrient density score for foods.

      His theory is that although most people can get fat on just about anything, our chances of losing weight and staying healthy are highest when we eat foods high on the nutrient density scale.

      He based the scale on 34 common nutrients the FDA recognizes and he weighted them according to the recommended daily allowance. You would think that foods like kale would get an even higher boost in score if the scale were expanded to the antioxidants colorful plants have.

      The nutrient density calculation is per calorie, so the higher scoring foods are generally lower calorie, which is good because xorius is right. 👆

    • Moose408

      Everybody is different, and looking for different things, so I'm not sure what nutritional value you would use. For example for the food I eat I am interested in glycemic index, carbs, and calories in that order. It's not always an easy thing to discover and there are often trade-offs. I would love for it to be simpler but not sure how to achieve that.

    • Chris

      Hey Moose!

      There is another index that I think is interesting related to glycemic index, carbs and calories. It's the satiety index developed by Susan Holt some years ago which attempts to determine how many calories you'll eat in a meal depending on what food is placed in front of you.

      The biggest factor seems to be fiber content. Foods with the fiber in tact have more bulk to fill you up, they digest slower, have lower calories, and suppress the blood sugar spike. So apples are satiating, low calorie, low glycemic index, but apple juice is not because its fiber has been removed.

      The undisputed kings of health—green vegetables—have a fair amount of carbs, but they are so rich in fiber that they are low calorie & low glycemic index.

    • gorudy

      same. I feel sad for avocados and bananas now.

      I guess I will develop a new love for bok choy and kale 'cause it's not going to be broccoli or cabbage...

    • Chris

      In my view the glycemic index is a great concept that's elusive to execute. The concept is it's a measure of how fast and high your blood sugar rises after eating a fixed amount of a food under controlled conditions, such as how long you were fasting before and averaging the responses of 10 subjects.

      You know that feeling of weakness due to low blood sugar and you eat a Snickers and you feel better fast? It has a high glycemic index so it sends your blood sugar soaring in a hurry. A couple ways to get a high glycemic index in a food is to strip out the fiber and add some types of sugar like maltose, dextrose, and rice syrup. Anyway, cakes and candies—refined carbs in general—are high on the glycemic index scale.

      High glycemic foods like soda are thought to be causally related to obesity, which is causally related to type II diabetes, which is causally related to pancreatic cancer.

    • Moose408

      The satiety index is very interesting thanks Chris for pointing that out. But it also shows just how difficult it is to have a single number that is going to satisfy everyone's needs. For example potatoes, whole grain bread, oatmeal all have high satiety but are very high carb and have a high glycemic index. However beef, eggs and cheese also have a high satiety but are very low carb and have a low glycemic index. Satiety might help with not feeling hungry when dieting, but doesn't really address the nutritional value of the food.

      It's a very challenging issue.

    • Chris

      Yeah. In my humble opinion, that's one of the crippling weaknesses of the glycemic index: foods high in fat have low glycemic indexes because fat digests so slowly. Some of those foods are strongly linked to heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes: beef, eggs, and cheese. Beef and cheese probably more than eggs.

      But foods like oatmeal (I would have called it medium glycemic index) are associated with long life and low incidence of heart disease, cancer and type II diabetes.

    • amacbean16

      I think there are two substantial challenges in play before we can label foods with a nutrients score:
      1) agreeing on what constitutes good nutrition and
      2) having enough spine to let science govern policy.

      I personally feel pretty confident that whole plant foods win, based on all the good science I've seen, but I'm also confident there would be tremendous pushback from people who advocate for all kinds of different diets, and especially from the big food companies that have a horse in the race.

      If you read the minutes for the meetings they hold to determine the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (as I have), you'd see the wildly different comments they get from "public" voices when they open the floor. I wrote this up on my blog awhile back because I was fascinated by the drama that unfolded:

      Public voice #1: Executive Director of McCormick Seasoning

      He, predictably, wants more “spice” in the dietary guidelines. “Sounds like a good food group to encourage.”
      (He says, in reference to spices.)

      Public voice #2: Senior Vice President of Nutrition Affairs with the National Dairy Council

      “leading health authorities recommend three to four daily servings of dairy.”
      (She says, to a group of supposedly THE authorities on health.)

      “If dairy foods are not included in the diet, calcium and potassium are severely compromised.” (Fascinating, considering it’s well documented that the countries consuming the most dairy have the most cases of osteoporotic hip fractures. And I’m not aware of widespread hypokalemia (potassium deficiency) in countries that skip dairy. Low-dairy Japan is ranked #3 for life expectancy whereas America is #50. I’m glad we aren’t severely compromised like Japan.)

      Public voice #3: Vice President for Consumer Marketing at the National Pork Board

      “Americans are not overconsuming meat.”
      (Well, since he says it, it must be true!)

      Public voice #4: dietitian at the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine

      “Every five years since 1980, the government has given new health and nutrition advice to the American public through the Dietary Guidelines, and every year since then, the American public has become markedly more overweight and obese. ”
      (Well, she certainly got MY attention)

      “The average American now eats more than 200 pounds of meat per year, approximately the double global norm. We eat about 30 pounds of cheese per year, three times as much as we did in 1970.”
      (Still listening…)

      “It is time for the Guidelines to take direct aim at the diet-related diseases that claim millions of American lives each year.”
      (Drumroll please…)

      “Vegetarian diets should be touted as the ideal”

      “Science supports a low-fat, plant-based diet for optimal health.”

      “The studies continue to show that these types of diets still prevent type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer.”

      “Guidelines should rely solely on evidence-based research and disregard any special interest groups. It is possible to set the bar as high as the science dictates.”
      (And the crowd goes wild. Ok, maybe just I did. )

      Public Voice #5 – Vice President for Nutrition with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

      “In fact, today’s pork is 30 percent leaner than 30 years ago, and beef is 20 percent leaner than 14 years ago. ”
      (Stores also sell Kool-aid with less sugar. Does that make it an essential part of one’s diet? I’m just sayin’.)

      “Despite the common reference that animal fats are saturated, nearly 50 percent in red meat are monounsaturated, and one-third of the saturated fat in beef and pork is stearic, which have a neutral or cholesterol-lowering effect.”
      (So, what you’re saying is… animal fat is saturated, just not all of it? Sweet. Sign me up. )

      Vote count thus far?

      1 for plant-based diet, 3 for meat & dairy.

      Take note that the plant-based vote came from someone with no obvious financial motivation, whereas the beef, pork, and dairy people have billions of dollars at stake.

      It got more interesting from there as the salt, sugar, refined grain, and nut representatives all had their turn to speak for "the public." But close to half of the 50 public commenters pleaded for plant-based, evidence-based guidelines and had no financial stake in the changes. They were school lunch coordinators, concerned teenagers, doctors. That's powerful! But that was also nearly 10 years ago and the guidelines issued since then continue to tread very carefully around targeting any particular food or food group as more or less healthy.

      More from the meeting on my blog...

    • amacbean16

      One positive change in the works is the requirement to call out "added sugar" to the nutrition label on packaged foods. It is mandatory for labels in the next few years. Currently it's hard to distinguish raisins from froot loops when you are looking at the label, unless you train yourself to look at the ingredients list!

    • gorudy

      "Every five years since 1980, the government has given new health and nutrition advice to the American public through the Dietary Guidelines, and every year since then, the American public has become markedly more overweight and obese." 

      I've heard Chris say something very similar to me as well when discussing government guidelines and the current state of heart disease in the US.

    • Chris

      Fascinating, Anne! I knew the food producers advocated for their foods and could put a lot of money behind their voices, but the level of detail you provided is really clarifying.

    You've been invited!