Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: Nutrition Made Clear

You probably already know everything that's in the course, Nutrition Made Clear. For instance, In Defense of Food, summarized everything in one sentence: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. But those books tend to be written for English majors: there's a huge amount of text devoted to the author's personal foibles, etc., while being tremendously short on facts or how you should approach the entire process.

Nutrition Made Clear is a good antidote for the typical nutrition book. It's very focused, and while it does make use of anecdotes (in the form of case studies of patients she's seen, or members of the Rice football team), goes mainly for the facts and what we know (and don't know) about nutrition.

She's brutally honest about her profession, noting that over the years, nutritionists have shifted from the vitamins and minerals approach to whole foods approach, mostly because the many ingredients found in fresh fruits and vegetables (phytochemicals) have many beneficial properties that have yet to be extracted, understood, or properly studied, hence the advise to "eat all colors of the rainbow." She also notes that coffee and tea also have similar properties, which are also not well understood --- though in the case of coffee and tea, the tannins also have some adverse interactions with certain minerals (in particular, coffee and tea reduces iron absorption --- don't drink coffee while eating your oysters, for instance!).

Sprinkled throughout the lecture series are several tips:

  • Nutritionists used to think that you have to eat complementary vegetable proteins to make a whole protein in the same meal (e.g., rice and beans). Now they think it only has to make it through your stomach on the same day to make the whole protein.
  • Use cast iron frying pans to increase iron absorption in during normal cooking. The contamination properties of cast iron frying pans can really make a difference in adding iron to your body!
  • Omega-3's beneficial properties for people at risk of heart attacks also thins the blood. So don't assume that a little is good means more is better. Too much Omega-3 could thin your blood so much that you could have trouble clotting! In particular, don't combine with blood thinners.
  • Most people who successfully lose weight and keep it off eat breakfast every day! Don't skip this meal if you want to lose weight!
  • Moderation is key. Too much of anything could cause problems. But in general, your plate should be 50% vegetables, 25% meat, and 25% whole grains. She provides detail and color as to why eliminating carbs entirely might not work out.
  • Calories in vs calories out is not obsolete!
  • People think that exercise doesn't work when it comes to losing weight. This is wrong. It mostly doesn't work because people out-eat their exercise. A 1 mile walk (2000 steps) is 100 calories burned. It's very easy to go for a 1 mile walk, and then come back and eat  a bar of chocolate (280 calories), and then you've out-eaten your exercise and then some! If you actually want to control your weight, you need to exercise half an hour a day, every day! If you want to lose weight, you need to bump it up to at least an hour a day, every day! (By the way, this explains why step counters actually hurt some people when it comes to weight loss -- that 10,000 steps is only 500 calories, which is trivially easy to out eat) Conversely, this explains why I practically have to force-feed my companions chocolate and ice cream during the Tour of the Alps. It's substantially much harder to try to eat 3X your normal calorie intake.
  • Other benefits of exercise (such as reducing risks of heart attacks and diabetes) only work for 24 hours after the exercise. So treat exercise like a pill you take every day.
So, in general, you know all this. But it's very nice to have someone spell it out for you (such as eating an extra slice of bread a day - 50 calories more) adds up to about 10 pounds of weight gain a year. The lecture series lays it out in stark terms.

Anyway, I enjoyed the series and would recommend it to anyone, even if they think they already know everything there is to know about nutrition.

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