2012 Low-Carb Cruise: Day Two

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
2012 First up on Day 2 was Denise Minger's talk, "The China Study: Wilted Evidence For Plant-Based Eating". Have you ever talked with someone who insisted that your low-carb diet was going to kill you because it has animal proteins and/or fats in it? They may have gotten their information from the book The China Study. I have heard and read quite a few discussions where one side essentially kept chanting "China Study" over and over (the most recent being Joel Fuhrman at the recent Obesity Conference).

The great thing about Denise is not only her ability to analyze and synthesize large amounts of data, but to present it in an accessible and entertaining way. (I've talked about Denise's analysis of the film "Forks Over Knives".) I can't possibly do complete justice to her talk (if you're interested, check out her blog post on the subject.) Here are a few of her main points:

There is a big difference between the book The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, and the research project which has been called The China Study (a 20 year epidemiological study directed by Campbell which Minger thinks was for the most part very well done). The thing is that much of the book actually contradicts the data which came out of the research. (By the way, Minger says that one way to describe epidemiology is "the study of things that can never ever ever ever ever prove cause and effect".)

For example, in his book, Campbell claims that animal protein promotes cancer growth "like a carcinogen", when in fact in the study, neither animal nor plant protein consumption had a statistically significant correlation with most of the cancers studied. However, the non-significant correlations were mostly negative for meat protein (meaning more meat was related to less cancer) and mostly postive for plant protein. So the data does not in any way back up his claims. Similar claims for heart disease have similar data. What food had the strongest association with heart disease, stroke, and body mass index? Wheat. Campbell himself had stated in the text of a 1996 study "wheat may be unique in its relative capacity to stimulate insulin". For more, check out her blog.

Another dynamic presenter was Dr. John Briffa whose talk had the same title as his book, Escape the Diet Trap. He talked about the many problems with the "just eat fewer calories" approach and said "it's not so much that diets don't work, it's that they can't work". He pointed out that "there has never been a diet comparison study that showed low-fat calorie restriction did better then low-carb" and yet when someone doesn't succeed in long-term weight loss by going hungry, the blame is placed on the dieter. In contrast, he says, "the less hungry you are, the more weight you'll lose".

Dr. Jeff Volek, co-author of several low-carb books including the new book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, spoke about "New Paradigms In Carbohydrate Nutrition For Athletes". As Dr. Volek has extensively studied this topic himself, there may be no better person to talk about it. He reviewed the history of how we came to believe that a continuous glucose source is needed for athletes, and then proceeded to present an alternative view. He said that we didn't evolve to store very much glucose, but we did evolve to store fat for energy. He pointed out the irony of when athletes "hit the wall" they have tens of thousands of calories in their bodies in the form of fat, but they aren't able to access it. On the other hand, people who are adapted to using fat for energy by following a low-carb ketogenic diet (the process of keto-adaptation takes several weeks) can readily access fat stores during athletic activity, making them far less prone to "hitting the wall". He is currently working on a sports drink based on these principles.

Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt followed Jeff Volek's talk by suggesting he add Swedish Olympic gold medalist Bjorn Ferry, who follows what the Swedes call "LCHF" (low-carb high fat) to Volek's list of athletes who follow low-carb eating regimens. (As I've reported in the past, LCHF is very popular in Sweden, and again this year we had many Swedish folks on the cruise.) Dr. Eenfeldt always delivers a great presentation -- another one that manages to be entertaining and informative at the same time. Two things that jumped out at me from this one: One for the science geeks: it turns out that in the 2006 Women's Health Initiative study (which showed that a low-fat diet was not protective of health) that "buried in the middle" of the paper (neither in the abstract, introduction, conclusion, or discussion) was the one statistically significant result: that people with a propensity for heart disease got worse in the low-fat intervention group. Naturally, this little tidbit did not make the papers. For the non-geeks, he told a wonderful story about a person who found out about LCHF in a grocery store talking to a stranger. This person had had 7 heart attacks and was on 20 medications. LCHF normalized everything, he lost 70 lbs, and he's only taking one medication now. Conclusion: Tell your story. We can change the world.

The final talk of the day was a fabulous presentation by Jackie Eberstein, RN called "Is Carbohydrate Addiction Real?" This is a controversial subject in the medical community, but Jackie presented compelling evidence on the side that it is a real thing, and says that she herself is a carb addict. I am definitely going to write about this, and Jackie has agreed to help me. I think it's very important to understand how some of us have brains and bodies that respond to carbohydrates in this way, and what we can do about it. Her suggestions are similar to an addiction model for other substances. Do you know that you can't eat "just one" cookie? Then do not eat any of them. She says, "embrace the idea the moderation does not work for you, not because you are weak, but because you are carb intolerant." I promise I will be writing more about this in the next couple of months.

The next three days of the cruise were "port days" where we explored Jamaica (Montego Bay), Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. One day I toured a plantation in Jamaica which grows coffee and a jillion types of fruit and palm trees (samples! yum!). In Cozumel, I did one of the best things EVER - "Snuba", which is sort of like Scuba only the air tank is on a raft floating at the surface. Several of us had regulators (what scuba divers use to breathe) attached to the tank with long tubes, so we could swim 20-25 feet below the surface. A guide taught us how to do it, and then led us under the water exploring the fish, coral, and other sea creatures. Oh MAN, I can see why people get hooked on diving! Snorkeling is one of my favorite things, but this is ten times better, as you're swimming amongst the sea life, with brilliant fish inches from your eyes -- easily 40 or 50 different species. If you ever get the chance to do this, don't hesitate!!

I'm going to be away for a few days, and then I will tell you about the last day of the cruise, and a cool new thing I'm going to try.

Image c Debbie Hubbs

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