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    • What do you guys think of the idea of taxing sugar products like soda/pop? This started asking about taxing meat so I figure it goes. Let me know if it should go in a new post :) I'm personally not really sure about the whole taxing sugar thing. While there's evidence that soda accounts for a reasonable percentage of weight gain in people, I'm not so sure that simply taxing it and using the money for say an information campaign on the evils is such a good idea. Taxing it and using the money to reduce the price of fruits and vegetables? I'm not so sure about that either. Anyone have any deeper insights into this?

    • The diet industry is such a minefield of misinformation and pseudoscience.

      I think it's a follow-the-money thing. There's very little money in selling fruit and vegetables. They spoil. You can't charge more for your broccoli than the other farmers do.

      But Doritos. Oh man. You can engineer them with three artificial cheese tones to make them delicious. They don't spoil. You can patent the recipe and keep it secret. The ingredients are so cheap you've got plenty of monies for Super Bowl ads. You can brand the package. You can make them royal garlic shrimp flavor. Bolder, bigger, thicker.

      I saw the results of a survey done perhaps 10 years ago which simply asked people of many nations, what is healthy? Margarine was, on average, the third thing they said.

      It has no nutrients. It's partially hydrogenated oil. It's high calorie. No fiber. But it's so cheap and profitable to sell that the margarine companies could spend huge dollars touting it, and most people came to believe the health claims in the commercials.

    • I eat meat but was vegetarian for most of my life so I agree with what you have written especially with regards to the treatment of the animals. I am fortunate to be able to purchase locally sourced, ethically and humanely raised meats when I want it. But I regard meat as a treat or an extravagance. I wish more people would.

      It's unfortunate that so many resources go into producing subpar food like McDonald's, et al., that aren't even very tasty and are sourced from big factory farms. I believe one issue underlying this is that many are disconnected from where our food comes from in the developed world. It's all neatly packaged or behind a glass case.

      I think my one concern would be the ability of the average working person or someone on minimum wage to afford meat when they want some if it were taxed. And even with a tax it would take some sort of cultural change to get folks to eat less and respect the animal and their meat more. When I was living in Turkey meat was something enjoyed but not eaten nearly as much as here. And it was not wasted. 

    • sfcootz
      In Canada, boneless, skinless chicken is on sale at our cheapest outlets for $9.99 a lb. That's in Canadian dollars but still way more than in the United States. I would guess that 'encourages' people to turn to more vegan diets and/or crap food diets and reduces the need for a tax on meat as you've suggested.

    • So, at a price that reflects the actual cost of raising the animal for slaughter? I may be mistaken and am not up to date on this but as memory serves, there are subsidies/ tax breaks that allow producers to sell meat cheaply here in the US. Maybe rather than a new tax corporate agriculture needs subsidies removed.

    • I think there are multiple things going on in Canada and the USA. Although I'm not fully up on it at the moment I do know that the Canadian government protects Canadian farmers and thereby reduces competition while raising prices. Not sure what the situation is in the US. I could see one day meat having a carbon tax (or other tax to reflect the true environmental cost of eating meat)on it but there's a heck of a long way to go before something like that happens. Lots of lobbiests to prevent that happening and many people still not accepting that climate change is real. People like those controlling the USA government.

    • For awhile I got fascinated by this, so I followed it closely. Our food policy in the US was driven by the economic hardships of the 30s when farmers were going out of business and there were food shortages. We decided to subsidize basic crops like corn and wheat that could be produced at scale and be stored for long periods of time. Those policies worked.

      Now we live in a time of plenty and the drive to produce cheap corn had the effect of also producing cheap meat.

      The policies worked so well that now we have a crisis of abundance. We want our citizens to eat fruit and vegetables to contain soaring medical costs, but there are no subsidies on them. It's hard to take back the subsidies on wheat and corn, so we're living with cheap donuts and hamburgers. That causes us to provide big health care subsidies to contain the staggering costs of preventable diseases like type II diabetes and atherosclerosis.

    • Yeah you're right. There is also the residual problem left over from the government supporting an ethanol industry for fuel. That raised corn prices and didn't have much of a positive effect on the environment either. Because of the way the system was set up to protect the farmers who went all in on ethanol, it's going to take time to go back to not having ethanol in the fuel. It's really a disaster if you ask me but understandable that things like this happen because you can't foresee what science and technology will discover in the future and it's better to try things and make mistakes than do nothing. Ethanol gums up my motorbike engines for example and helps automotive repair places make more money fixing the problems but the environment is no better off for it. The environmental policies are now better served by other measures to reduce impact and to clean up the air quality. Subsidies are a tricky thing. They are necessary sometimes to help a domestic industry survive foreign competition but if they are maintained for too long then they actually make companies less competitive and waste tremendous amounts of money as well as keep things from moving towards smarter and cleaner industries. There are plenty of good ideas out there but it's time some people start taking a serious approach to educating the American people against the propaganda message of the mega rich that is pushed by the Republicans. I'd love to see a third party system develop in the US but there are so many road blocks to that. I think in the current climate - though unlikely - it's at least possible.

    • Some say we should tax sugary drinks and snacks and use that to subsidize the aforementioned. We'll see what Chris thinks but I say we just need more educational campaigns to teach people about the benefits of eating properly - whatever that is.

    • Education is important for sure. But someone who is lower income is probably going to make a rational decision to buy food they can afford which is almost never the healthiest option. How do overcome that?

    • I think that there are healthy, fast options out there. I can't help but think that kids not taking home economics is making things worse. My mom didn't teach me these skills. She was a 16 year old runaway who never learned them herself!

      But my point is, with better information and training we can make better decisions. That includes about food.

    • Lack of money for healthy food is always a concern even with people who aren't poor - me for example. One thing we have to realize is that even with our 'unhealthy' western diets even the majority of poor people are still getting the vitamins and minerals they need for maximum growth. Athletic performance isn't even that affected by our diets as long as it isn't too extreme. I've done plenty of 'research' on my own when eating McDonalds food while on bicycle training holidays in California and have gotten plenty of KOM segment times or top finishes on big mountain climbs against friends who eat very strict diets. As long as I don't consume too much sugar or fat I find there's little if any detectable difference in my performance. And remember athletes consume sugar drinks and gels regularly while on rides. Other serious scientific studies have shown that people who ate McDonalds food for recovery had no discernible level of recovery from people who had eaten specialty recovery drinks or food created for that purpose. Just like for example chocolate milk being the best recovery drink.

      Long term health may be a concern if we're eating tons of fat or sugar but it's not as big of a factor in the short term as we might think so long as people are eating some reasonably healthy meals on occasion. Where it's of the biggest concern is with developing children. Some places are starting to realize that giving a young mother or family food for their child will actually be cheaper in the long term than supporting that child when they get older and become an adult. Any development that is impeded due to lack of nutrition will eventually mean a cost to society. What is of the biggest concern in my mind is weight gain but here again eating sugary and high fat foods does not mean you will end up fat or overweight. I could go on a McDonald's 'diet' and lose weight. Calories in vs calories out still holds in the larger scientific community. Yeah there are triggers with eating certain foods that cause you to not be satiated, blah blah blah, but we have to be cautious when we come to conclusions because there is so much misinformation and pseudoscience out there in the diet sector.

      So how does wealth affect people's likelihood of being overweight or obese?
      "Suspecting that men and women pay different  prices for being obese, a group of researchers  at George Washington University recently attempted to quantify the economic impact by gender. They found that obesity costs women nearly twice as much as it does men, and that the vast majority of this difference can be traced  to the hit obese women take to their wages. The economic impact is only the beginning. Obese women in the U.S. are less likely to get married than their normal-weight peers, and about half as likely to attend college. They’re also twice as likely to become ill or depressedas obese men. Given these incentives, is it any wonder that women with more resources tend to use them to avoid the fate of being fat and female in America?"

      Maybe we need an education program that talks not just about how eating affects your short and long term health but how it may be costing you real money, reduce your chances of finding a mate and so on. The problem here again is that it's taboo to talk disparagingly about people's weight - especially of women's weight. Our society has gone too far at times in promoting overly thin women and now there are unrealistic fitness models that women aspire to be like (men too actually and they don't realize that many of the guys with ripped abs and muscles are on drugs). So how do you tell people they shouldn't be fat (and that eating better will help them) but not offend anyone? Participaction was a huge educational program promoted by the Canadian government years ago but new scientific research shows that exercise is NOT what makes most people lose weight. It certainly helps then become more fit and healthy but it's not the road to getting thinner.

      Some scientists recently found that parents are feeding their babies too much because of a misunderstanding on children's growth milestons and that this is a huge factor in their future chances of becoming obese as adults. It seems people or rather parents think of their child's weight milestones as an important indicator of their child's health but not interpreting it properly. They are wanting their child to be above the 50th percentile of children at each age milestone and think that it's better to be above the 50th percentile in weight.

      This isn't an article that discusses parents misinterpretation of the weight milestones but does talk about parents feeding their kids too much

      There's good news here. Parents can be educated about not feeding their kids too much and have the milestones explained to them better. They can be taught to understand the risks of feeding their child too much and greatly reduce the chances of their child becoming overweight as an adult.

      Canada is currently redoing its Canada Food Guide and I'm guessing that other countries are considering or doing similar things. We aren't going to get people back in the kitchen cooking but there is a concerted effort to get food processing companies to reduce sodium and sugar in their products. There was in fact some government and industry agreement on this a while back but industry failed to live up to their part of the agreement and government hasn't pressed their case. Money, money, money.

    • A few years ago I started to research why the curve of mortality from heart disease looks like it does among endurance athletes. Sedentary people have the highest risk, the risk drops precipitously for people who do 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise/day, but then increases again until the people who do 3+ hours/day have risk factors approaching sedentary people. This got personal for me when fit athletes I knew started dying of coronary disease much too young.

      One of my favorite athletes, Steve Larsen, died suddenly at 39 of atherosclerosis. He was something like twice world mountain bike champion, on Lance's Tour de France teams, was an incredible triathlete. He left behind 5 young children.

      The evidence seems to point to them believing they burn off whatever they eat. They train so hard they have to eat 5,000+ calories/day. That's a lot of material that inflames your arteries and builds up plaque to flush through your circulatory system. Since they don't notice a diff in recovery between eating MacDonalds and eating a bowl of oatmeal or beans and brown rice, they eat the MacDonalds, not realizing what is happening to their arteries. If they get a calcium scan done, they are usually shocked.

      Bad screen capture from James O'Keefe's TEDx talk:

    • Fruit and vegetables can be expensive in food deserts like Detroit, but beans, brown rice, sweet potatoes, oatmeal...are pretty much the cheapest foods. The reason heart disease plummeted during WWII in Europe was because animal foods became scarce due to poverty. The reason poor countries have such low rates of heart disease, type II diabetes, and bowel cancer is they eat a lot of beans, rice, roots, etc. (Or they do until their markets fill up with cheap refined food like sugar, pastries and shortening.)

      I don't think 1 in 1,000 Americans know that heart disease is a food-borne illness, almost completely preventable and reversible. Clinton knows it and preaches it, but still no one knows. Same with type II diabetes. I'm not aware of a case that wasn't reversible in 30 days through a cheap diet alone.

    • I've read numerous articles on the risks of serious endurance athletes who continue to train seriously well into old age. The findings show that competitive endurance athletes live longer than the average person IF they reduce the amount they train after they retire from professional sport. Yes they have found increased levels of calcium in people who have trained for many years as an endurance athlete and while increased amounts of calcium in the arteries of sendentary people is considered a bad thing it is not necessarily so in trained athletes. At this point in time it's not known for sure if an increased amount of calcium in athletes is a bad thing and could even be a good thing. It's definitely something doctors and scientists are interesting in determining so the studies continue. I have some friends in California who are very serious cyclists and one of them had some heart concerns. We started doing all kinds of reading on endurance athletes and reduced lifespans and determined from the studies that we were okay so long as we weren't crazy ultra endurance athletes that kept up that level of training for decades. My one friend who first brought up his concern with me is a firefighter and developed lung challenges due to a particularly bad fire. He also had some heart issues but it was determined that it was a genetic thing. I've recently had my heart checked in a few tests to make sure things were okay. Another friend of mine who is a good cyclist but doesn't train quite as much as I do has also recently had his heart checked. We have another friend who trains a lot and has had a stent put in his heart. The findings show that people who exercise at such extreme rates or high levels as we do will expose a faulty heart sooner than the average person. My doctor told me though that if I had that kind of fault that I'd have died long ago considering how hard I push myself. That's a different thing from long term damage done however. Fortunately I've never been an extreme athlete, I have taken over a decade off from serious training and my heart has checked out fine. That is of course no guarantee that I won't die of a heart attack tonight. I carry low dose aspirin with me on most of my rides just in case someone has a heart attack.

      I'd like to see some study that claims eating excesive amounts of food as an athlete causes a calcium build up in their arteries. I think some suggest the build up of calcium may be the body's response to inflamation. It's still unknown at this time but I'd sure like to see a peer reviewed study. Also keep in mind that over 50% of peer reviewed studies end up being wrong after further follow up studies. That's a serious problem with scientific studies and the method they are using to report their findings. There's currently lots of serious discussions about how to address the numerous issues that are plaguing science journal articles right now.

    • Unfortunately sweet potatoes are $1.50 a pound here (I still eat them) but beans and the rest of the food you've mentioned are inexpensive. I'm not aware of the science on WWII heart disease deaths and their cause but I agree with you on diet helping diabetes, obesity a huge factor in diabetes prevalence and that junk food's growing ubiquity is a worldwide concern. Education, education, education. But we'll also need to somehow pressure companies that create all that refined food.

      On a bit of a separate note, one concern of mine is that people automatically assume all processed foods are bad and that's simply not true. Flash frozen vegetables can be healthier than raw vegetables if the raw vegetables have sat out for a long time. The frozen vegetables are frozen when fresh and that saves many of their nutrients.

      There's no simple answer to all of these problems but one thing is for sure and that's that it'll take a multipronged approach to addressing this concern in a way that's going to stop and then reverse the obesification of the world's population.

    • Chris - When considering whether calcium in sedentary people is possibly different from trained athletes we can look to the enlarged heart. In sedentary people an enlarged heart is usually considered a sign of heart disease and requires intervention with medications. An athlete's large heart is generally considered a good thing. See article:
      The jury is still out on that one though I would be concerned if I was an ultra marathoner for years.

    • My understanding is we look for calcium buildup in arteries because calcium provides a hard, reflective layer that shows up in scans, not because it poses the danger of blockage that plaque does. The calcium is an indirect measure of risk because it's correlated with coronary disease, not because it's the cause of heart attacks like blockage from plaque is.

      The trouble with plaque is it's hard to detect without an expensive MRI or angioplasty. Studies show that when you change someone's diet who has calcium and plaque buildup, the plaque recedes along with their risk of a heart attack, but the calcium rarely does.

      Retired athletes who have heart attacks are very common even when they cut back on their exercise as they age. For example, the great marathoner Alberto Salazar was only 48 when he had his massive heart attack and he had remained slender and kept jogging 25-30 miles/week. As in almost every case I'm aware of, he had no structural damage to his heart from his years of being a champion marathoner and ultrarunner. He simply had plaque build-up because he enjoys MacDonald's.

      It's true, former elite athletes are more at risk of heart attacks as they age, but so is the rest of the population. Plaque buildup is cumulative over the years.

      There are people with major structural damage to their hearts from past heart attacks or infections (that's me, Rheumatic fever as a child). They far exceed any damage a pro athlete sees to their hearts. But as the Cleveland Clinic Prevention Center has so dramatically demonstrated, it's a rare patient (less than 1 in 100) who experiences heart disease after a change in diet, even if they are sedentary or old. Their prevention center sees the worst of the worst, patients who've had stents, heart attacks, strokes, and bypass operations. Their surgeons referred them to the prevention center because they had become so weak or old that surgical interventions are no longer an option.

      The main artifact from heart attacks and infections that a change in diet won't help is permanent damage to the nerves that carry electrical signals, but that only represents a small percentage of patients whose heart problems arise from plaque buildup.

    • If I understood you correctly you're saying you can change your diet and your chance of getting a heart attack falls pretty quickly? Is that what you were saying more or less? What is the diet change?

    • Here's a good article that talks about Salazar and the extreme exercise hypothesis as per the 2012 Tedtalk. It says his hypothesis and reasoning then says:

      I suspect, though, that part of what sustains the “too much exercise can kill you” myth is the widespread recognition of the so-called exercise paradox. That is, while consistent exercise decreases the likelihood that you will have a heart attack, if you are destined to have one it is more likely to happen while you are exercising.

      Even if it does turn out that extreme exercise increases people's chance of getting a heart attack by 1% I'm really not worried about it because I'm not an extreme endurance athlete. Very interesting research however. Just for the record I don't normally eat at McDonald's ;) That stuff tastes like crap and fortunately for me my girlfriend is a cook and is asian. Asian food is my favourite though I like almost anything and everything. I'm not picky. Basically I try to stay fit, rest lots, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, grains, some meat and milk products and avoid junk food unless I'm doing some crazy bike ride and need some quick energy. Hopefully I have good genetics and don't get unlucky with cancer before my body is thoroughly worn out :) I'll continue to read all the great diet, food, exercise and lifestyle conversations on Cake to try to pick up a few tips on how to live healthier and happier.

    • I think one of the most astounding demonstrations ever done was Caldwell Esselstyn's first human diet intervention for patients with severe heart disease.

      He's a great guy, olympic gold medalist, bronze star surgeon during the Vietnam war, renowned surgeon at the world's most prestigious heart clinic, I could go on for paragraphs. What he noticed after tens of thousands of surgeries is when you do open heart surgery, the same mechanism that caused your arteries to clog in the first place, cause them to clog again in an average of 10 years. Eventually, you can't keep having open heart surgeries, so you are sent to home hospice care, same as terminal cancer patients.

      He took 21 of them for an experiment of only dietary intervention. They couldn't exercise because they were not ambulatory (couldn't get out of bed). They were the worst of the worst with a long history of heart attacks, strokes, and genetic pre-disposition to heart disease. All were on heavy meds.

      One died of a heart attack from arrhythmia caused by damaged nerves from multiple heart attacks, at the very beginning of the trial (none of them were expected to live more than 6 months). He put the others on a diet of no animal or refined foods, just beans, vegetables, fruit and whole grains.

      5 of them said doc, that's a fate worse than death, we need pizza and burgers. Those 5 died shortly after. The remaining 15 stuck to the program and were able to get out of bed, play golf, run marathons, and live full lives. 13 are still alive 20 years later, 2 died of old age. One guy had another minor heart attack 2.5 years after the program started because he decided moderation was okay and had a little birthday cake during social occasions, etc. That scared him back on the program and he had no further problems.

      Dr. Esselstyn wrote a very respected book and has given many great lectures, including this TEDx talk.

    • Wow that sounds...well too good to be true. I'll definitely do some digging. Thanks for the info!!!

      I start with the assumption that it’s not true and that
      there are problems with his study. I also look for replication of the study if
      it does show promising results. I ask myself what is the predominant view of
      the experts in the field and if I find they are at odds with the person then I
      want to know why. As soon as you started saying he is some authority I’m
      concerned about the argument from authority fallacy so I become even more
      skeptical - though interested.

      The first thing I find is this:

      It leaves me with concerns about Esselstyn’s study and lack
      of very tight controls, limited study, lack of replication, failure to be
      followed up and no publication in a credible peer reviewed journal. So far at
      least. I also ask myself what Esselstyn has to gain from promotion of this and
      think book sales but don’t look any further into his possible motives. I keep
      looking and find this:

      More concerns about his study and it further reinforces that
      his controls are not very tight, his claims are extraordinary and the people in
      the study were even on medication. Now I still haven’t discounted his argument
      but I’m finding the evidence really preliminary. His study is what scientists
      would call preliminary and not something that we should make strong claims on,
      certainly not a slam dunk as he would claim. 
      When I hear of Bill Clinton following this I am brought further home to
      another famous and hugely respected person who may have fallen victim to claims
      of alternative medicine and that’s Steve Jobs. No matter how famous, successful
      or brilliant you are in one subject or area you are not infallible especially
      if you don’t know the rules of logical thinking and aren’t aware of logical

      So the search continues and I remain a skeptic.

      What is likely so far: Good things – eating lots of fruits
      and vegetables, reducing red meat intake when they have nitrates, eating whole
      grains, eggs, cheese, nuts, avocado…

      There’s no such thing as super foods but rather vitamins and
      nutrients that our bodies need and foods that can provide us with them. Fiber
      is also something that helps keep us regular and whatever else it does that
      appears to be beneficial.

      Bad or concerns – milk is not some magical nutrient (I drink
      whole milk), soy could possibly be a concern if men drink too much, almond milk
      and other alternatives to milk have tons of sugar and often not much in the way
      of nutrients, nitrates in red meat eaten in large quantities, not getting
      enough exercise, not getting sunlight, hormones in meat could be a problem, too
      much sugar, bioaccumulation of mercury if you eat too much fish from certain
      places… Too much sodium? Science keeps going back and forth on that but it’d
      probably be a good idea to avoid too much anyway. Moderation…