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Whole30x2: Day 22
February 6, 2014 — 2:45 am

Often, people who call the basic idea of a “paleo” diet into question think it’s problematic to eat meat, or perhaps any animal products at all. I understand ethical vegetarianism, and I have no quarrel with people who don’t want to eat animals for whatever moral reasons they may have. I take strong issue, though, with claims that it’s healthier.

The single most widespread piece of evidence that vegetarians tend to marshal in favor of their health claims is The China Study, a bestselling book based on a 20-year epidemiological survey in various regions of China. The problem with treating this as any kind of definitive analysis, though, is that The China Study is purely observational and has a slew of methodological problems: cherry-picked supporting sources that don’t always support what they’re purported to support, conflating broad correlation with specific causation, and failing to control for other complicating factors — “variables like schistosomiasis infection, industrial work hazards, increased hepatitis B infection, and other non-nutritional factors spurring chronic conditions.”

In short, The China Study doesn’t compare apples to apples. It was a non-rigorous survey-based study that didn’t control for other dietary variables, and conflated extremely loose correlation with specific causality of a single factor among many. At the most, this kind of survey-based data can suggest a hypothesis to be tested through randomized, controlled trials. Instead, people leap from slight observational correlation to alleged definitive causation. It’s the same type of shoddy science problem that led to the demonization of saturated fat during the past few decades.

Denise Minger, author of the excellent new book Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health published an in-depth analysis of the claims presented in The China Study three and a half years ago. Anybody interested in nutrition should take the time to read it.

Summing up, from its conclusion:

If both whole-food vegan diets and non-Westernized omnivorous diets yield similar health benefits, this is a strong indication that the results achieved by McDougall, Esselstyn, Ornish, et al are not due to the avoidance of animal products but to the elimination of other health-harming items. Western diets involve far more than increased consumption of animal products, and for some groups—such as Alaskan Natives—a switch from a traditional diet to a Westernized one entails reduced animal food consumption, with the caloric void replaced by refined carbohydrates, hydrogenated oils, grains, sugar, and convenience foods. The fact that a dietary shift towards Western fare inevitably leads to proliferation of “diseases of affluence”—regardless of changes in animal food consumption—suggests that another factor, or lattice of factors, instigates this decline in health.

The success of the Chinese on plant-based diets does not invalidate the experiences of other populations who evade disease while consuming animal products. Nor does individual success on a vegan program nullify the disease reversal seen by those adhering to specific omnivorous diets. Rather than studying the dissimilarities between healthy populations, perhaps we should examine their areas of convergence—the shared lack of refined carbohydrates, the absence of refined sweeteners and hydrogenated oils, the emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods close to their natural state, and the consumption of nutritionally dense fare rather than empty calories or ingredients concocted in a lab setting. Modern foods, and the diseases they herald, have usurped the dietary seats once occupied by more wholesome fare. It is this commonality—the thread bonding healthy populations—that may offer the most meaningful insight into human health.

Here are my food photos for day 22:

Wednesday, Feb. 5

I woke up at 9:25 a.m. (after heading to bed at 2:45 a.m.).

Breakfast: 10:35 a.m. | 6 eggs, 2 oz. baby spinach, 2 Tbsp. red palm oil, herbs & spices

Breakfast: 10:35 a.m. | 6 eggs, 2 oz. baby spinach, 2 Tbsp. red palm oil, herbs & spices

Lunch: 4:30 p.m. | 10 oz. pork sausage, 10 brussels sprouts, 1/2 yellow squash, 1/2 sweet onion, 4 cloves garlic, 2 Tbsp. coconut oil, herbs & spices

Lunch: 4:30 p.m. | 10 oz. pork sausage, 10 brussels sprouts, 1/2 yellow squash, 1/2 sweet onion, 4 cloves garlic, 2 Tbsp. coconut oil, herbs & spices

Dinner: 10:10 p.m. | 4 oz. prosciutto, .25 oz. spinach

I had the chance to cook lunch at home today, and ended up eating a bit more than the amount I’d usually have for dinner, so I ate light this evening.

Dinner: 10:10 p.m. | 4 oz. prosciutto, .25 oz. spinach

— Eric D. DixonComments (0)

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Eric D. Dixon

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