Nutrition news roundup

RNitunesiconSalmon, obesity paradox, brain diet link and processed meat warning

Fake Wild Salmon

Is your salmon really salmon? Well, it’s probably salmon, but it may not be wild salmon. That’s the finding from a study by conservation organization Oceana, which recently tested salmon samples from restaurants and grocery stores.  Almost half — 43% — of the samples labeled wild Alaska salmon were not wild Alaska salmon.  Instead, most were farmed salmon and many weren’t even from Alaska.

There are two interesting details here:

  1. Restaurants were far more likely to be selling fake wild salmon since restaurants aren’t obligated to verify their supply sources.  Grocery stores are required to do that. Still, about 20% of grocery store wild salmon was actually farmed.
  2. Second: this recent study was done in winter, when wild salmon is out of season.  A similar study done in wild salmon season, which is roughly May through September — found much less fraud.

Take away message: don’t buy wild salmon out of season.  It’s like buying something labeled “fresh picked peaches” in the middle of February in northern latitudes. They might be peaches, but they definitely weren’t fresh picked.  Like produce, wild salmon is a seasonal food.

So are restaurants deliberately trying to pass off cheap farmed salmon as expensive wild salmon to make a buck?  Not necessarily.  The restaurants might not even be aware of the fraud.  There’s no reliable tracking system that can tell you where the salmon originated.

How did Oceana do their study?  They used DNA testing.  Unfortunately most restaurants don’t have the time or resources to do DNA testing on every box of salmon that comes into the kitchen.  So your best defense is to order wild salmon in season. Even then, you can’t be sure it isn’t really farmed.

Obesity Paradox debunked

Sorry obese people, there is no obesity paradox.  The so called obesity paradox claimed that obesity was actually healthy, based on data showing that very thin people had an unusually high death rate.  A new review verifies what I’ve been saying all along about this myth: the data were flawed.

This study points out the obvious reason: frail elderly people, smokers,  people with severe diseases like HIV, TB, dementia, cancer or anorexia all tend to be thinner, because they’re in poor health.  When you lump the data from thin sick people into the analysis, it makes excess weight look healthier.  It’s a statistical mistake.

This study looked at weight history, not just current weight, in people with heart disease  Why look at weight history?  Because a guy with heart disease might weight 170 lbs on the day you collect data, but he may have lost 100 lbs over the last several months due to his illness.  Previous studies didn’t account for that.   The corrected data showed that normal weight people with heart disease lived longer than obese people.

So next time someone claims having a few, or a lot of extra pounds isn’t such a bad thing, you’ll know they’re wrong.

FishMarketYour Brain on a Mediterranean Diet

The plant-based Mediterranean diet has plenty of known health benefits, from lower risk for heart disease and cancers to lower body weight.  A new study hints that it also might help slow cognitive decline.

The subjects were healthy older people, average age 80.  Subjects with a more Mediterranean-like the diet maintained larger brain volume.

Higher fish intake and lower meat intake had particularly significant benefits.

The key point here is that the Mediterranean diet didn’t prevent cognitive decline.  Rather, it seemed to slow the loss of brain volume compared to people who were not eating a Mediterranean-style diet.  Whether the benefits were truly from eating more fish, or from the diet as a whole isn’t known. But given all the other health benefits, why not switch to a more plant-based, lower meat diet?

Even if you’re not worried about cognitive decline, The WHO’s recent claim that processed meats are worse than smoking for cancer risk seems to add support to the less meat argument.  Bacon, ham, sausages and cured meats aren’t new.  They’ve been part of the human diet for centuries.  Thanks to salt curing, meats can stay safe and edible for prolonged periods, a real bonus for civilizations that didn’t have any other way to preserve food.  Plus those foods taste good. Now they’re under attack.

According to the WHO, these types of foods are “probably carcinogenic”, which doesn’t sound very convincing to me.  What they’re actually saying is that, in countries where consumption of these types of meats is high, there are higher levels of many cancers.  That’s interesting, but it doesn’t prove causation. There could be other things about a lifestyle that includes lots of processed meat that is more detrimental. Or it could be the whole lifestyle.

One person familiar with the WHO discussion noted that the committee reviewed 940 things that could be related to cancer. Only a chemical found in yoga pants was declared safe. Seriously?  There’s a chemical unique to yoga pants?  Or maybe the real issue is that people who do yoga have low cancer risk lifestyles.

But of course, a Mediterranean style diet would be low in all types of meat, processed and fresh, so if you’re truly worried, going to a more plant-based diet is a good solution with or without the yoga

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