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Observations on Nutrition Web Sites

by Gary F. Zeolla
(a.k.a. Reepicheep)

The following article is combined from two messages posted in the "sci.med.nutrition" Newsgroup.

Three Very Different Web Sites

I just read through quite a bit of three very different Web sites that posters to this Newsgroup link to:

DoctorYourself.com ~ Beyond Vegetarianism ~ QuackWatch

First, let me say, I can see why the average person gets confused about nutrition as the advice on these sites is about as different as they can get!

The first, DoctorYourself.com promotes a very high raw foods, vegetarian type of diet, with a heavy emphases on "juicing" and very mega-doses of supplements. It also talks about the "conspiracy" in the medical establishment of "ignoring" or "hiding" the value of megadoses of vitamins, especially vitamin C, in curing just about everything. Meanwhile, the other two sites seem to be written specifically against sites like this one, but from different angles.

Beyond Vegetarian specifically indicates the shortcomings of a raw foods, vegan type of diet. Instead, it promotes a diet more along the lines of the Paleolithic Diet, with an emphases on the need for animal foods, especially flesh foods in the diet. I didn't see exact percentages, but it would seem to be promoting a low-carb, high fat (though not high sat fat), high protein diet. It makes little mention of supplements except to say vegans often need at least B12 supplements.

The last, QuackWatch, specifically writes against the "conspiracy" mindset promoted in DoctorYourself.com. Also, QuackWatch promotes the basic "Food Pyramid" of the USDA, and gives the basic line about supplements not being needed if one follows a "balanced" diet based on the pyramid. It even goes so far as to compare those who use supplements to "junkies" needing a "fix."

The above are admittedly very simplified summaries, but I hope accurate. Let me say, IMO, each site did make some good points, but some I'd personally disagree with.

DoctorYourself.com is correct in pointing out the importance of diet in prevention of many illnesses. But it goes way overboard in suggesting everything can be prevented or cured by diet or supplements. It is also interesting how it needs to appeal to research from the 1940-50's. I know Dr. Saul would say this is because such research is being "repressed" today, but I see plenty of research in the value of vitamins in fighting or preventing diseases going on (evidence, for instance, recent studies on the value of antioxidants and their possible use in preventing heart disease and strokes).

Beyond Vegetarianism does do a good job of showing the inadequacies of vegan, raw foods, and very low-fat diets. But as I read the site, I couldn't help but keep thinking whether the comments would apply to ovo-lacto vegetarianism, or a moderately low-fat, mostly plant based but with some animal foods type of diet (which is what I favor). It also is good at showing why a "one-size fits all" approach to dietary recommendations might not be the best.

Specifically, it looks at how some people groups have adapted better at utilizing milk and grain products than others (which could help explain some of the debates over these foods in this group). It also pointed out that cultured milk products like yogurt and cheese might be better options for people than "straight" milk. Make them low-fat and it would overcome two main objections to milk products: lactose intolerance and high sat-fat content.

QuackWatch is very interesting. It does point out a lot of "tricks" to look for various health schemes being promoted. And this information is very helpful. But the main point in regards to this group would be the promotion of the "Food Pyramid." Sites like the first above think the Pyramid is faulty because it recommends animal foods, but sites like the second above think the Pyramid is faulty in even recommending milk and grain products.

Personally, I think the Pyramid is pretty decent, but could use some modifications. For instance, one point I definitely disagree with on QuackWatch was its criticizing people for criticizing "enriched" grain products. It says that people who do so "neglect" to mention that nutrients removed in the refining process are added back in the enrichment process. It is true that some removed nutrients are re-added, but by no means all of them. So I do not consider it a "fallacy" to speak against "enriched" grain products and recommend whole grain products instead.

As for supplements, that would be another discussion entirely. I will just say, I find it highly questionable to say people need to take nutrients in supplemental form that would be impossible to get in any kind of diet. Moreover, if in any dietary scheme you "need" to take supplements, that simply shows the diet is inadequate and needs to be adjusted.

OTOH, I do think it is wise to take a one-a-day type multi-vitamin/ mineral supplement "just to be sure" one is getting all the nutrients. At least that is what I do. But I should mention that the one-a-day supplement I take is iron-free. Moreover, I would say any adult male and post-menopausal women should avoid iron supplements. There are some potential health risks from excess iron (i.e. heart problems and GI disturbances ).

All three of these sites make for interesting reading, but I couldn't whole-heatedly recommend any of them. But then it is doubtful I would find any Web site on any subject that I would agree with completely!

My Own Diet and Exercise Routine, and their Effectiveness

As for my own thoughts on nutrition, my diet is mostly plant-based (at least 75% of calories) with some animal foods. The plant foods include about 8 servings of grains a day, and the animal foods include about two servings of low-fat, acidophilus milk a day, and maybe a serving of yogurt (I mention grains and milk as they seem to be the main foods in debate in this group and on the above sites).

A while ago I kept track of everything I ate for a week, and then used my "Diet Analysis" program, which analyzes a diet for 26 nutrients. The average came to about 2000 calories, consisting of about 15% protein, 55% carbohydrates, 30% fat, with the fat split basically evenly between saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. So my diet would have been about 10% saturated fats. I also consumed at least 100% of the RDA for all of the nutrients tested for.

As for how well my diet is working, since everyone else seems to be posting their lab results, I might as well post mine from a couple of months ago:

Total Cholesterol - 194 mg/dl (normal range: 120-199)
LDL cholesterol - 124 (75-129)
HDL cholesterol - 55 (35-59)
TC/ HDL ratio - 3.53 (1.00 - 6.40)
Triglycerides - 73 (40-199)
Glucose - 89 (65-109)
pH - 6.5 (5.0-7.5)

My total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol look somewhat high. But my HDL levels are near the high end of the "normal" range. So my TC/HDL ratio (which is now thought to be the most important figure) is about in the middle, somewhat closer to the low end of the normal range.

So the main question is why is my HDL levels relatively high? I would assume that the main reason is I was more active in the months prior to this test than I had been in years. I was up to swimming 40 laps (1000 yards) in 40 minutes 3x/week and biking about half an hour on alternative days, along with stretching exercises for half an hour 3x/week.

A minor factor might be my intakes of nuts (about 3 servings per day). Their high monounsaturated fats levels might have helped raise the HDL some too. Otherwise, my test was rather uneventful. All the rest of the items tested for (both blood and urine) were in the "normal" range.

Moreover, there is a scale at the Nautilus center I work out at that measures, along with one's weight, one's bodyfat percent. Mine is 14%. The "ideal" range for a male my age (i.e. over 30) is 17-21%. The range for males under 30 is 14-19%. So I am at the low end of the range for even the lower age category. So it would seem the type of diet I am following is working just fine.

As for exercise, since my bicycle accident (which occurred shortly after this test was taken), needless to say, my routine has changed. Having broken bones in my right shoulder, I am still in rehab. And I cannot swim or ride a "real" bike now, but I am engaging in brisk walking and using a stationary bike. And, of course, doing therapy exercises for my shoulder.

But a point of note, my therapist says I am recovering from the multiple fractures in my shoulder a lot faster than expected. I almost have my full range of motion back now and am just starting to begin strengthening exercises. My therapist keeps saying, "You must heal quickly." So an interesting question could be, why am I recovering so quickly?

One reason would be I was in relatively good shape at the time of the accident. As I said, I was doing stretching exercises regularly, which included for my shoulder. And the swimming I am sure was strengthening my shoulder. So I would have been rather flexible and strong in my shoulder to begin with. So it shouldn't take as long to regain what I lost. But I would also think my diet has something to do with as well.

For more details on my ideas on diet, if anyone is interested, I just started a "Dealing with Health Difficulties" section on my own Web site. Now I should "warn" people that my site is mainly a Christian site. But since I do have a degree in nutrition (Penn State; 1983), I decided to add a few articles in this subject area. And they are unique in giving a Christian perspective to the nutrition debate.

Follow-up

After posting first message above, I received the following clarification:
As a Site Editor for Beyond Veg, I would like to clarify one point. The Beyond Veg web site does not promote any specific diet. Our goal is to serve as an information source, rather than as advocates of a particular diet. The site does take an evolutionary approach on a number of dietary issues, but we don't promote any specific diet.

This clarification brings out the main point in which I would disagree with the Beyond Veg Web site, its ideas are based on evolution whereas I believe in creation. I was going to mention something in regards to this point in my initial post, but to do so would have probably started a "creation vs. evolution" debate, which would have been decidedly out of place in the "sci.med.nutrition" Newsgroup.

That said, despite its being based on evolution, as indicated, the Beyond Veg site does present some good information that could be adapted into a Creationist viewpoint. Specifically, its description of different people groups adapting different diets at different times would help explain why some people thrive on certain types of diets while others do not, and why some people can consume certain foods that others cannot. The differences would be do to differing genetic heritages.

From a creationist viewpoint, these differences would probably have started at the Tower of Babel. I elaborate on this idea in the article The Tower of Babel and Dietary Development.

Disclaimer: The material presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only. The author is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any diet or exercise program, one should consult your doctor. The author is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice in this article.

Observations on Nutrition Web Sites. Copyright 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above Newsgroup Post was posted on this Web site September 27, 1999.

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