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Cheeseburger Please, and Make It a Double

cheeseburger

Consider that for the last year or so, we have been treated a deluge of entreaties to reduce our salt intake, with the American Heart Association going so far as to claim that daily sodium intake should not exceed 1,500 mg. This puts it at odds with the Institute of Medicine, and now European researchers whose data indicates that the healthy range for sodium intake appears to be much higher.

Our conversation about  sodium, much like advice about purportedly evil saturated fats and supposedly beneficial polyunsaturated fats, exemplifies a national obsession with believing eating more or less of a one or a small number of nutrients is the path to nutritional nirvana.

A few weeks back, an international team of scientists did their level best to feed this sensationalistic beast by producing what’s become known since then as the meat-and-cheese study, because it damned consumption of animal proteins.

  • A lot of the key data is in the supplementary tables, which weren’t embedded in the press release, so no one noticed it. The supplementary tables reveal that almost 40% of study subjects were former smokers and nearly 20% are current smokers. These proportions are far greater than the general population; smoking promotes many more cancers than just lung, and it impacts diabetes risk. The last time 40% of American adults smoked was 1965.

  • Study subjects, on average, did not graduate high school, meaning that they were at a substantial socioeconomic disadvantage for having either knowledge or incomes to cultivate and support healthy habits.

  • Like nearly all junk science on health habits, this study doesn’t even mention the importance of physical capacity to mortality and the ability of physical capacity to modulate risk even in the presence of adiposity. In fact, it ignores fitness completely.

  • Study subjects ate an average of 1,823 calories daily, while federal data says American adults eat about 2,200. The quality of calories consumed is described poorly. Fiber intake is not reported, and neither is how the protein was eaten. A cheeseburger made with 70% beef and eaten on a white flour roll is a different animal than grilled salmon consumed on a 100% whole grain roll, even though they might offer similar overall calories and protein content. They also do not report alcohol intake, even though it is a well-established cancer risk factor.

  • The conclusion that people should depend on plant-based proteins to reduce health risks and eat less protein before age 65 is inconsistent with the consensus findings from the Institute of Medicine and with informed thinking on the role that protein plays in satiety and how it may help to reduce obesity levels. Further, sarcopenic obesity is a growing problem that may be affected not only by increasing protein intake but by getting people to engage in resistance training, starting both in middle age.

  • Senior author Valter Longo founded medical food company L-Nutra, which is currently developing two products. One is a plant-based weight-loss food ProLon that the company claims will have “a potent effect in causing weight loss while optimizing the micronutrient nourishment and promoting anti-aging effects in patients.” Interesting nexus for a paper promoting plant-protein consumption.

This is what the study really says: In a population of fat, older, poorly educated Americans who somehow magically ate fewer calories than average, many of whom are or were smokers who apparently never exercised and maybe guzzled alcohol, the authors, including a senior author who stands to benefit directly from the media chittering about plant-protein consumption, conclude that (excess) animal protein is the problem.

This paper is a perfect example of ‘bridge-to-nowhere’ academic nose picking. It also reinforces growing concerns about the validity of research findings in the increasingly dubious peer-reviewed literature. If published at all, this paper would have fit better in the Journal of Irreproducible Results or the wellness literature alongside other forgettable health trivia.

To paraphrase my pal Al Lewis, you don’t have to challenge the data to invalidate it, you merely have to read the data (but you have to go the supplementary tables), and it will invalidate itself.

I’m hungry. Who’s buying the the cheeseburger, fries and beer tonight?

Vik Khanna is THCB’s Editor-At-Large for Wellness. He is also author of THCB’s next e-book, Your Personal Affordable Care Act: Making Yourself Scarce in the Dysfunctional US Healthcare System. Along with Al Lewis, he is co-author of THCB’s inaugural e-book, Surviving Workplace Wellness With Your Dignity, Finances and Major Organs Intact.

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@StoryOfHealthGeorge LimonJohn IrvineMitchPeter1 Recent comment authors
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Vik Khanna
Guest

This conversation is ongoing. Please visit my blog for a new post about this silly paper: http://khannaonhealthblog.com/2014/05/27/stupid-is-as-stupid-does-meat-and-cheese-redux/

@StoryOfHealth
Guest

Vik, I’m not vegetarian, but have gone through stints of being vegetarian, vegan, vegan & no oil – partly to see how it affected how I felt, but also because I have conversations about such diets with my patients in the ER sometimes. I like what Perry said, and you supported, about “going back to basics”, but for many Americans the basics of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and many of the other things on Perry’s list are not the reality. Many don’t even agree on what the basics are.I don’t think a hard-core “this is what you must… Read more »

Vik Khanna
Guest

Anoop: thanks for your very thoughtful note. I share some of your experience, having tried my hand at vegetrarianism, no oils, etc. At the end of it all, I eat this way: modest amounts of a broad range of foods, in quantities that I can easily judge will not push me towards overweight/obesity. I am also fanatically devoted to my exercise regime, and much of my eating is designed to support that. So, I agree with you: back to basics is the key. But studies such as the one I lampoon are not about back to basics. They are, as… Read more »

@StoryOfHealth
Guest

Vik, Even when the science behind a study is good, I have a problem with accepting a study as the final verdict on a subject rather than as an informing opinion. Even the best study is an opinion within a particular context about a population. It doesn’t say anything about Vik, Anoop, or anyone else in particular. Taken out of context, they can be harmful. Considered in context, they can be life saving. The article you linked to that questions the validity of many studies (was that a study as well? 🙂 says it well. t’s appropriate to really look… Read more »

Vik Khanna
Guest

I agree with a lot of what you say. It is uncommonly wise. However, please don’t talk to people about pillars of health. It’s an oft-used wellness metaphor and strikingly wrong. Pillars, like the corporate silos that business leaders complain about, lack interconnectedness and don’t conjure an image in the listener’s or reader’s mind of how apparently disparate concepts such as exercise, nutrition, stress management, etc. all connect at multiple levels. A honeycomb might be more apt. One of my biggest concerns is that we are tipping towards making everything about healthy living dependent upon the judgments of the professions.… Read more »

@StoryOfHealth
Guest

Vik, I absolutely agree with you – “Health is not a medical product and the majority of what’s needed to remain healthy (for most people most of the time) should not require robuset interaction with the medical care system.” (-Vik Khanna) I also absolutely love the content of what you said about graduate and professional degrees not being independent validations of the opinions they produce, although I don’t consider people with such degrees clowns. Each opinion stands on its own. And most of the knowledge required to enjoy good health does not require formal education, although in the absence of… Read more »

Vik Khanna
Guest

Send me an email at Vik.Khanna.Health@Gmail.com, so we can talk offline.

George Limon
Guest

I’d recommend vegetarian food! 🙂

John Irvine
Guest

I wonder how many people have gone out and ordered cheeseburgers after reading this post. admit it, vik you’re an agent of the meat industry ..

Vik Khanna
Guest

You’ve found me out. Truth be told, a great burger has been one my guilt pleasures for as long as I can remember, which is pretty amusing considering that when my family came to the US my parents were both praticing Hindus who did not eat beef. My first burger was at a White Castle in Queens when I was about 4. Love at first bite.

Mitch
Guest
Mitch

Vik where did you get the burger?:)

Vik Khanna
Guest

For a quick burger, I love Five Guys. Double cheeseburger, with L/T/O & hot peppers. Their fries are awesome.

For a premium burger, Trader Joe’s 8 oz Kobe beef patty on my grill, brushed with a little olive oil and dusted with salt and pepper. Big, thick slice of onion. Hmm, I think I’ll go make one for brunch.

Mitch
Guest
Mitch

I agree regarding FG; my favorite among the quick-serve options. If you are ever in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia try McMenamin’s. Quite good and the fries are excellent.

Mitch
Guest
Mitch

Perry, I applaud you for the advice to just get back to basics. In my case, that means eating like a pre-agriculturist, paleo, primal or whatever you wish to call it. I eat very little grain (maybe once a month) or sweetener (very, very rare), few fruits but plenty of vegetables, protein and fat-the majority of my calories from the latter.I use olive oil, coconut oil and some grass-fed butter. Once a week, I fast for 48 hours. Works for me.

I have a cheesebuger once every couple of months. With fries:)

Perry
Guest
Perry

I like burgers but my real downfall is ice cream.
Thankfully I have good genes.

Mitch
Guest
Mitch

I love ice cream…..though I;ve had it maybe ten times in two years. And btw, try coconut bliss, yes made from coconut milk. It is really, really good. WHole Foods carries it, company was created by a couple of hippies in Eugene. Pricey but worth every penny.

Perry
Guest
Perry

Now that sounds good. Unfortunately, the nearest WholeFoods is about an hour away. I imagine the hippies dreamed that up after partaking of some weed.

Mitch
Guest
Mitch

Try your local health food store. It’s worth the hunt.

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

We’ve got bigger problems than invalid studies that are mocked by validating the consumption of hamburgers.

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/05/my-trip-mcdonalds-sponsored-nutritionist-convention

An inconvenient truth.

General Healthy
Guest

Studies should simply be required to capitalize and bold the word MAY in their conclusions…rather than let it quitely morph into the word DOES in print and in peoples’ minds.

And, in any articles written referencing the studies, the word MAY should be capitalized and bolded, as well. If we do both of these things, we just MAY get to a better understanding of science vs. spin…truth vs opinion.

GH

Alan Cassels
Guest

Wow, there’s an article where the reader feedback is almost more impressive than the original. No offence, Vik, but thanks for lighting that particular fuse. Speaking of fuses, it was admittedly hard to concentrate on your arguments, with the accompanying visuals of a luscious cholesterol-laden cheeseburger that has now crowded out all other choices from my lunch plans (which may have included kale salad and a beet smoothie) and forced me into the single, logical choice (with fries, of course). Next we shall accuse you of shilling for Wendy’s. I see a huge parallel between the plant-protein salesman and the… Read more »

Vik Khanna
Guest

Alan, I am still laughing so hard at your last paragraph that I am finding it impossible to formulate a response other than I am really glad to be a trim, nonsmoking, normolipid American of Asian ancestry.

Bill Springer
Guest
Bill Springer

I’d recommend the burger with a salad 😉

@BobbyGvegas
Guest

This post has motivated me to have a burger today. Been a while. Maybe a big mushroom/swiss cheese one with red onion.

Seriously.

Vik Khanna
Guest

Bobby, you are a man after my own heart. Make mine Kobe beef, 8 oz pre-cooked weight, on the most highly refined white flour roll you can find.

Oh, and let’s get the duck fat fries.

@BobbyGvegas
Guest

From my 1998 essay about my late daughter’s cancer struggle: “A Healing Burger Or, the “healing pizza/chocolate shake/friesî? One day not long ago, after we’d visited with a pleasant, seemingly intelligent woman of recent acquaintance who had also endured a long struggle with cancer and was committed to a “holistic healing” regimen, I ribbed Sissy that we ought cruise down Sunset for lunch, specifically to order some “healing burgers,” — my facetious reaction to having been cut off mid-sentence the prior evening after uttering the phrase “fruit juice” in the course of responding to a query concerning Sissy’s daily diet.… Read more »

Vik Khanna
Guest

Gold, Jerry, pure gold. (Sorry, Al!)

@BobbyGvegas
Guest

BTW,

THCB continues to block any links to my REC/KHIT blog, now even if I use a Tinyurl proxy, so I can’t cite the link to this story.

Google “REC blog” (1st result) and click on the right hand link with Sissy’s photo if you wish to read the entire thing

Perry
Guest
Perry

Yeah, we don’t see many fat Amish around here. They eat like the Alabama farmers, but always walking, biking and doing chores. Now when the rest of us try to eat like that…

userlogin
Editor

Frankly, I find this entire discussion baffling.

Why do people keep trying to “scientifically” prove things that are, well – when you stop and think about it – straightforward common sense?

I like cheeseburgers. I am an adult. I don’t need a study to prove to me scientifically that a cheeseburger-based diet is a bad idea.

Vik Khanna
Guest

Silly, John. You don’t have a company with a product to promote, which is much better done with the imprimatur of ‘science-based’.

That whole schtick is the supplement industry’s stock in trade. You concoct an answer, design a ‘study’ to deliver that answer (and only that answer), frame the data exactly the way you want it to be reported (including the construction of supplementary data that no reporter will read because it upsets the process of re-writing the press release into ‘news’) and, viola, cheeseburger bad, veggie burger good.

@BobbyGvegas
Guest

Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy is particularly efficacious in this regard.

Perry
Guest
Perry

Do we really need more studies on these issues? How about going back to basics:
encouraging fish and chicken consuption, lean meats
fresh fruits and vegetables
legumes, and nuts
whole grains
etc. and regular physical activity: walking biking swimming, no Arnold Shwarzeneggers needed.
Sheez how hard can it be?

Vik Khanna
Guest

Perry: you hit the nail right on the head. Doing the fundamentals is what matters. But, by vesting so much in the alleged experts and their stilted views, most people no longer recall the basics.

It isn’t hard at all. We only make it seem hard because that helps to promote something that someone wants to sell us to make it easy again.

Al Lewis
Guest
Al Lewis

Where are the growhups who are supposed to be reviewing this stuff before if gets “out there”? Why do we have to read the supplementary tables to figure out this is nothing but a sales pitch.

Vik Khanna
Guest

Al, that’s a good question for the editors of Cell Metabolism. On their website, I cannot find a list of editors or reviewers. To carry my thesis one point further, I think that given Dr. Longo’s promotional interest in having these “findings” widely dissseminated, the journal should release the names of editors and reviewers who passed judgment on the paper. As consumers and readers, we ought to know whether any of them benefit from uptake of this sales pitch as well.