Wesleyan U. Social Psychology Professor Scott Plous studies people’s attitudes towards using animal products. I’m taking his intro to social psych online course and we had to participate in this interesting survey. I plan to read his research, but this survey shows you what the front end looks like (at least part of it – your answers determine what further questions you get, like a “Write your own adventure.” It’s open to the public, so give it a try, help Prof Plous figure out what’s going on.
Posts Tagged ‘diets’
Posted by tinako on February 5, 2014
Great NY Times article on studies showing the lifelong effects a baby’s diet has: “changing food preferences beyond toddlerhood appears to be extremely difficult.”
Posted by tinako on March 15, 2013
This connection took me completely by surprise. I have been asking friends and family how they experience satiety, the sense that you’ve had enough to eat, and found there was a wide variation. One friend says she has never felt satiety, that she always wants more. A family member tells me that to him satiety is on or off, and that it doesn’t kick in for a while after eating. My son and I, on the other hand, feel it slowly coming on as we eat – we feel a stretching sensation in our stomachs and know from experience at what point we need to stop or we will feel ill later. Is the knowing satiety, or is it the ability to stop eating? There was a time (before I ran) when I would eat myself sick and continue to eat – did I experience satiety or just a stomachache?
I also figured satiety was something people were ignoring, or the call for food was overpowering will. My friends and family are often surprised that food just doesn’t have much of a hold on me. For this reason I’m rather humble about my ability to maintain my weight – somehow my wiring has made it easy.
A recent article in the New York Times has astonished me. In The Appetite Workout, two studies are cited opening a window onto a new view of satiety, and it’s all about exercise-induced hormones. The article is short and well-written, so I won’t summarize it.
But they weren’t measuring people’s sense of how full they were. They were measuring how much they ate. In this case, at least, satiety is not the awareness but the action.
By the way, I run, but my son doesn’t, and we’re both normal weight, but at 13 he still has less control over what he eats than I do, since I shop and he is penniless.
Posted by tinako on February 6, 2013
About a year ago I went looking for links between soy and estrogen when an aquaintance expressed alarm that I was giving my son soy. I found at that time that the blogs were full of this, but they never seemed to have any sources except each other. I searched for sources myself and could find no evidence or warnings at NIH, USDA, Mayo Clinic, or the American Dietetic Association. On the contrary, research looking for ill effects among Japanese eating a lot more soy than we do found none.
A friend of mine recently went vegan and said she was avoiding soy because her friend told her it was linked to cancer. I said she could easily be vegan and never eat soy. If it worries you, don’t eat it. But I went to look for evidence about soy and cancer. Those sites I visited before now acknowledge that there is concern about soy’s health effects, but I’m not seeing any general warnings. I emailed to my friend what I found, and thought perhaps others would be interested. I’m not a doctor, just a Googling Know-it-All. Here’s what I wrote to her:
“Before I bore you on soy, I wanted to suggest that vrg.org is a great source for vegan diet info. They are very reputable, very calm and reasonable. Click on Veg Nutrition and then choose a topic such as calcium, protein, or B12. A vegan should probably know at least those three topics. Getting back to soy, you can look at this page at VRG and the second FAQ is about soy. The answer gives a great overview and includes servings: people in Asian countries eat 2-3 servings per day (and do very well).
Here are a group of studies I found on soy, mostly through National Institutes of Health, the official U.S. government medical entity. I didn’t “cherry-pick” them at all – this is the order I found them in Google, actively looking for anything negative, until I got sick of looking:
1. This scientific article says soy consumption in Japan seemed to reduce risk of colon cancer slightly among women only.
2. This scientific article about breast cancer in Japan (where many were exposed to the bomb) has a confusing abstract but I think the key sentence is: “The risk for breast cancer was not significantly associated with consumption of soya foods.” Not sure if they were looking for increased risk or decreased risk, but they found neither.
3. Another study from Japan shows “frequent miso soup and isoflavone consumption was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.”
4. Another study says: “The present study provides modest support for the preventive role of soy against stomach cancer and heart disease death.”
5. Another study, and this one assumes everyone knows soy is good against stomach cancer: “Soy food is known to contribute greatly to a reduction in the risk of gastric cancer (GC). However, both Japanese and Korean populations have high incidence rates of GC despite the consumption of a wide variety of soy foods. One primary reason is that they consume fermented rather than non-fermented soy foods….These findings show that a high level of consumption of non-fermented soy foods, rather than fermented soy foods, is important in reducing GC risk.” (Miso and tempeh are fermented. It isn’t clear to me whether they’re suggesting the high rate of GC is caused by fermented tofu or just isn’t helped by it.)
Studies can be flawed and contradictory, so it is important to look at wider views from professionals who have drawn what conclusions they can from carefully examining many studies:
At a general page at NIH where they sum up research, under the general statement that “Soy is considered safe for most people when used as a food or when taken for short periods as a dietary supplement” they do have this one conditional negative statement: “Soy’s possible role in breast cancer risk is uncertain. Until more is known about soy’s effect on estrogen levels, women who have or who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive conditions (such as ovarian or uterine cancer) should be particularly careful about using soy and should discuss it with their health care providers.” I’m not sure what research leads them to worry about soy – I can’t find anything specific online – but that’s what they say.
Another article from NIH. This one is pretty good, seems comprehensive, and again (I mean like everything except the previous article) has nothing to say about soy increasing the risk of breast cancer. The only thing they say about cancer (and note dementia, too) is:
“The original interest in soy was fueled by…the observation that populations that consume a lot of soy, particularly those in eastern Asia, have less breast cancer, prostate cancer, and cardiovascular disease, and fewer bone fractures. Additionally, women in these populations report fewer menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, and both men and women have a lower incidence of aging-related brain diseases. Since lifestyle can affect chronic disease development, and diet is a major lifestyle factor, traditional Asian diets drew considerable attention. …[T]he cumulative evidence of numerous biomarker studies has confirmed that their diets are significantly higher in both isoflavones and lignans (another phytoestrogen) compared to the typical Western diet. Studies have further shown that when Asians emigrate to Western nations such as the United States and adopt the prevailing diet, their disease rates change.”
This last sentence indicates that the lower incidence of those diseases mentioned is therefore not a genetic effect but something around them that changed when they moved to the U.S., probably diet.
For another point of view, the Mayo clinic, who were mum on the topic last time I looked, now say:
“The high intake of soy foods in Asian countries has long been credited, at least by some researchers, for the lower rate of breast cancer among Asian women, compared with women in countries where little soy is consumed. But some confusion arises when you look at genistein, the main soy isoflavone and a plant estrogen. Does it protect against breast cancer or, on the other hand, promote the growth of existing cancer cells? Some studies have suggested the latter. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic reviewed all the evidence and concluded that soy has not been shown to fuel breast cancer cells. “If breast cancer patients enjoy soy products,” they concluded, “it seems reasonable for them to continue to use them.” Whether soy actually protects against breast cancer is still unknown.”
Lastly (I promise) John’s Hopkins University has this very clear page:
10 Myths About Breast Cancer Survivorship
MYTH 1: Eating soy products after having hormone receptor positive breast cancer increases my chance of a recurrence.
FACT: Research on soy has been conflicting over the years. It has the capacity to mimic as well as block certain estrogens. Overall, natural dietary soy in the form of soy milk, soy bean sprouts, tofu or tempeh appears to be safe and may provide significant health benefits when it replaces animal sources of milk and protein. However, soy in concentrated forms such as pills, powders and supplements has the strongest potential for estrogenic activity and probably should be avoided by anyone who has been diagnosed with hormonal receptive breast cancer.
I’m not pooh-poohing your friend’s research. You’ll just want to compare her sources to these and decide for yourself.”
Posted by tinako on July 26, 2012
The USDA has an interesting new view of the argument that healthy food is more expensive than junk food: that may often be so calorie for calorie, but how about satiety?
Check out this article, “Healthy Food is a Better Deal than Junk Food“
Posted by tinako on July 23, 2012
I just listened to a Yale Rudd Center podcast about a new exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum called “Big Food: Health, Culture, and the Evolution of Eating.”
I’ve asked my city’s science museum to consider hosting this exhibit. In addition to wanting to see it for myself, I love the idea that area schoolchildren could be exposed to these ideas in a fun way.
Maybe you’d like to see it at your local museum, too.
Posted by tinako on June 3, 2012
I read an article my dad clipped out of The Wall Street Journal for me, “A Divine Way to Resist Temptation,”which is about how it seems to be easier for people to control what they eat when the restraint is religious-based, such as kosher rules.
We’re not Jewish, and my dad probably recognized that I would appreciate this not from a religious law basis, but from a values perspective. It is not hard for me to resist eating animal products, because they are so dissonant with who I want to be. A friend, standing with me in front of a non-vegan dessert display, once told me I must have a lot of willpower. Her comment took me by surprise because willpower doesn’t enter into it. These products represent misery and do not appeal to me at all.
This brings me to something I heard in a Buddhist talk. Gil Fronsdale made the point that sometimes what seems like patience, isn’t. For someone whose buttons are being pressed, say by a long ticket line, they have to actively be patient, but if their buttons have been deactivated through practice, there is no call for their patience – the wait in line is just not a problem. And Starbucks desserts don’t press my buttons any more.
Returning to the title of this posting, when we forgo the pleasure of certain foods or accept the boredom of waiting, whether for a higher power, compassion, or just to remind ourselves of the Buddhist concept that waiting in line is a perfectly fine place to be, what we’re doing is taming our sense that we have to have what we want when we want it, being slaves to pleasure of all sorts. (Do you understand the difference between pleasure and happiness? This seems like a good explanation.) One of my favorite parts of my daughter’s choice to become vegan is that she will get lots of practice saying no thanks; I believe this will make her stronger in every aspect of her life.
Veganism was the big push – it was a painful decision, but then I was highly motivated to say no to a lot of food. Since then I’ve found that every time I decide to reduce another food in my diet, it gets a little easier, counter-intuitive if you consider that with each restriction the pool gets smaller. But I’m just not that attached to any particular food that much any more – I love my choices and the taste of food, but none of it has hold of me. What a feeling of liberation, and this from someone who couldn’t have candy or tortilla chips without gorging. I find this decrease in attachment translates over into other parts of my life as well – I could just as well call this post “Putting Pleasure in its Place.”
So if your habits seem too hard to overcome, try to find a more compelling reason to let them go.
Posted by tinako on May 4, 2012
This recent comic strip makes me chuckle, but I have to disagree with Garfield. How can I live my values if I don’t know what I’m doing?
Posted by tinako on April 25, 2012
[I joined the Sierra Club last year and they are asking me to renew. This is the reply I’m sending.]
To Whom It May Concern:
I’ve been asked to renew my membership, and I’m not going to. I thought you might like to know why.
While I was disappointed with your earlier national position supportive of the hydro-fracking that is set to cause so much trouble in my state, feeling undermined as I and other local activists worked to keep this industry at bay, I’ve been impressed otherwise with your work on a wide variety of issues. Overall I like the Sierra Club. We are on the same side – we recognize how crucial it is to act now to avert disaster.
However, there is one huge environmental issue on which we seem to disagree, and that is meat. I could live with your simply ignoring this issue, like so many other environmental organizations, and you certainly do that. I counted two articles in the latest newsletter alone (May/June 2012) on which your silence on animal products was deafening. “Water, Water Everywhere” told readers about the water impact of some items, including several which are probably not discretionary, such as tires and cement, while not mentioning beef’s and milk’s huge waste of water. Beef and milk are 100% optional purchases, and your readers will probably make these purchasing decisions within hours. The other article was “Fighting Climate Change With Family Planning.” The point of the graph is to show that family planning can be as helpful as things like running cars on clean hydrogen, and is an important part of the solution. But if the U.N. is correct that livestock causes 18% of greenhouse gases, much more than cars, why is it not listed there instead of cars? Why did it not earn any place in this chart?
In short, I did not see a single mention of diet as any part of a problem or solution to any environmental issue in this magazine, nor do I recall seeing any in the issues I have received over the past year.
Instead, unfortunately, unbelievably, you promote meat. I usually see meat and dairy praised on your “Enjoy the Green Life” page, and this month, “Enjoy Fast Food,” was no exception. You didn’t take the hint when Michael Pollan refused to recommend fast food, but instead forged ahead to print “fast-food fare that environmentalists can order with a clear conscience,” as recommended by restaurauteurs with no apparent qualifications to answer this question authoritatively. So you endorse the “burrito bowl with chicken or steak, beans, veggies, sour cream, cheese, and lettuce”? Chipotle has terrific vegan options; did your writer calculate the impact of this meal compared to a vegan version? How can your magazine pass this recommendation on to your readers without comment? And what about Le Pain Quotidien’s item, consisting apparently entirely of ham, cheese, and egg? What are you thinking? These items are an environmental nightmare! Organic means no pesticides or hormones were used, but says nothing about the greenhouse gases, the manure lagoons, the incredible waste of water and energy, and the breath-taking waste of feeding perfectly good food to animals so they can process it inefficiently through their guts, giving you less than you put in. These items may be less wasteful and polluting than typical fast food, but that is an incredibly low bar to jump over. I’m not insisting you should print attacks on these menu items, but you should not be claiming they’re guilt-free or conscience-clearing.
I recall tearing my hair out when the Sept/Oct 2011 issue arrived and I read this same column to find you promoting a single-serve microwaveable beef pot roast, telling readers it’s “Earth-Friendly” because its tray is made partly of calcium carbonate so it uses 40% less plastic and emits 55% less greenhouse gas pollution. But they could switch their packaging from illegally-harvested mahogany crates to recycled banana leaf envelopes and it still wouldn’t change the fact that beef is the worst thing for the environment you can eat, and a single-serving frozen meal is probably one of the worst ways to eat it. You concluded, “It’s nice to see a well-established brand make a proactive move toward a more sustainable environment.” Are you serious? Put something better in the calcium carbonate box. I get that you want to reward companies that want to do the right thing, but this product is a total green-wash, and you’re using member donations to help them do it. I subsidize beef enough through my taxes.
Back to the current issue, you report in “The Next Big Thing” that perhaps “summer barbeques will solve all our problems.” After mentioning that readers might enjoy a steak this summer, you tell us, without apparent irony, that bio-scientists have found a new “sustainable fuel source:” beef. Is there any other environmental organization or independent scientist who has studied these food issues and who believes that beef is sustainable? I suspect Amtrack wants to use beef tallow not because it’s particularly earth-friendly to produce, but because in these times of high fuel prices it is a cheap, available byproduct, given Americans’ appetite for hamburgers. Unfortunately, tallow is a cheap, available byproduct of an unsustainable livestock industry which is responsible for a large part of most of the environmental crises we face, from water and air pollution, energy waste, acid rain, greenhouse gases, desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, loss of habitat, food-borne illnesses, and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Did your writer take these factors into account when trumpeting the hydrocarbon and CO emissions reductions? Magnifying all these problems by endorsing an increase in the demand for beef tallow is the opposite of what the Sierra Club should be doing.
I have been tabling at environmental and health fairs on these issues for the last five years or so, and I am heartened to see a change: people I talk to are starting to arrive at my table already somewhat aware that their diet has an impact on the environment. But so far this change is no thanks to the Sierra Club; vegetarian organizations are fighting this battle against ignorance mostly alone. I hope to someday read that the Sierra Club is joining, even leading the effort of encouraging people to consider how their diet affects the earth. You don’t have to nag people to be vegan – just be upfront and accurate as you go about discussing issues which diet affects.
A first step would be to stop promoting it. I can’t support an organization that does that.
Posted by tinako on April 1, 2012
I had a very long discussion with a young man while I was tabling recently at a health fair. He approached the two of us with the question, “What can I do about the cravings for sweets that I have after dinner?” My co-staffer responded that he could try popcorn, and she went on to explain how to make it healthy but delicious. I listened a minute, and then said, “You know, I’m going to disagree with you on that one.” I’m not convinced this substitution method works for heavy cravings.
If you are, like me, a living human being, particularly if you are a woman, you have probably had many conversations with friends about what to eat when you want to eat something naughty. We seem to go from Snackwells to 100-calorie-packs-of-whatever to fruit salad to toasted soy nuts to rice cakes to infinity, and what they all seem to have in common is that they utterly fail to be that brownie we wanted. Do these things really satisfy people, really, for the long term? If these are working for you, go for it. You don’t need me. And keep telling people what works. Maybe when you want a doughnut, a banana is just as good.
But I spent too many evenings eating item after item that just wasn’t that candy bar I wanted. And I found another way. This method works, for me, to the degree that I do not want the offending item any more.
It’s not as simple as “try popcorn.” There are a lot of possible parts to it, so you can customize it, and so it took a really long time to explain to that poor guy, glued to my words, and alternately standing and squatting in front of our table. Fortunately for you, I’ve worked out a more organized explanation, but still, be glad you’re seated comfortably.
Basically, my idea is “Pay attention, face your cravings, and take control.” (Disclaimer – maybe someone else has thought of this before me, maybe there are lots of books written about it, but if so I don’t know about it. The seeds of the idea have come to me from many directions.)
Pay attention: Over time, as my diet becomes healthier, I have become more and more aware of the huge impact what I eat has on how I feel. Many of you will say “duh!” but probably an equal number of you will doubt it. It is only very recently that the average doctor is beginning to acknowledge that diet can significantly impact prevention and control of disease; many still don’t consider it important enough to discuss during an appointment. Schools don’t make this connection when they serve high-sugar, high-fat meals in the lunchroom. Common sense (“garbage in, garbage out”) isn’t always so common. So for example, I thought I could eat sugar with impunity until I discovered, after thirty years of mild acne, that sugar gives me acne within hours of eating it. I did not know this because I ate added sugar, at reasonably low levels, almost every day. So it was only when I thought, “Eh, maybe these anti-sugar fanatics know something I don’t, maybe I could cut back,” and then one day overindulged again, that I made a connection I hadn’t even been looking for.
This isn’t the only example, but I will try not to bore you more than necessary. The thing is, I now have a strong incentive to not eat sugar excessively. The pleasure lasts minutes, but the zits last days. Maybe this doesn’t happen to you. Maybe with you, the sugar makes you feel jumpy, or just vaguely unhealthy or even guilty. The point is to pay attention, not just to pounds on the scale, which for me is too distanced, but to how you feel. I discuss the concept of not being aware of how bad some food makes us feel in another post I wrote, Why Can’t We Stick With a Healthy Diet?
Face Your Cravings: I’m going to continue with the sugar example. We live on a very short street with no other trick-or-treating kids, and we are cut off from other neighborhoods by a busy road. So while we could theoretically get some kids, we never do. Zero. So I buy a handful of Smarties (my favorite vegan candy) and then there they are after Halloween. I don’t eat anything like this usually, so I paid close attention when I ate, well, about ten rolls of them one night and then about the same the next night. In addition to my face breaking out (which I was just beginning to figure out), I noticed that on the third night, I really wanted more Smarties. Since there were still a few left, I finished them. The next night, when I wanted them again, there was nothing for it but to sit with this want. Now, I could have raided the kitchen looking for something to take the place of the Smarties, but because this was a new craving, and I was paying attention, I realized this was something I wanted to get hold of. I wanted to Take Control. So I sat there, and just marveled at this feeling inside me. I didn’t push it away “Bad cravings, go away, what a terrible person I am!” and I didn’t hold it tightly by letting it drag me to the kitchen. I chuckled to myself, “Wow, those Smarties are really calling me. What a strong feeling this is. Good thing I don’t have to follow it, I don’t have to believe it. I’ll just watch it and see if it gets stronger or not.” It is also helpful to see this craving, not as the enemy, but as a part of yourself, like a sick child. Have compassion. So, within a minute or so it went away. It might have come back, but I would just do the same thing, and I found that each time, it was easier to let go of. The next night, I couldn’t care less about Smarties again. This was empowering information – the craving doesn’t last forever, and doesn’t come back indefinitely! When I feel like I really want something, the suffering is not indefinite, if only I can take a stand! And knowing what I do about the acne and the cravings, if you put out a bowl of Smarties for me right now, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have one. Like Pavlov’s dog, I can learn.
This isn’t isolated – I had the same thing happen when I cut out (for expense reasons) the dark chocolate I was eating every night. At first I missed it; that first night, I did have an apple as a substitute, but I was being aware mindfully, and I didn’t expect it to really replace the chocolate. By the second or third night, I didn’t even think about it. I have been without it over a month. I wanted to see if it would raise my blood pressure to have it again (long story), so I tried two pieces in the middle of the afternoon last week. I didn’t even want them, had to make myself eat them. I didn’t crave them later, which seems to confirm my suspicion that a craving is not usually set up by having something just once.
Other examples of foods that I suspect create cravings in me are salt and diet soda. I have no interest in diet soda unless I have had a few cans of it in the past few days; the first can is “meh,” the second one tastes better, and soon I am vastly preferring it to water. From paying attention, I have learned that diet soda is not worth the craving. Here is my posting on someone else’s meat addiction.
A friend told me she used the craving technique of having a glass of water, waiting two minutes, and then if she still really wanted whatever having a small piece. This is very similar. She’s bringing mindfulness to the situation, instead of just being dragged to the kitchen, whether to have the desired food or a desperate substitute.
Sometimes when I have an urge to have dessert when I would prefer not to, I will fix a pot of tea (I learned to love it without sugar). Now, if I threw a teabag in a mug with water and shoved it in the microwave, it might not have the same effect as what I do: put water in the kettle, heat it up, measure tea into my teapot, assemble the tea tray, etc, etc. It is ten mindful minutes from start to finish. Do you see the connection? It’s not really about the tea, any more than it was about the apple. I’m not expecting the tea or apple to substitute for the Smarties or whatever, to fulfill a crunch, or salt or sweet craving. It’s just a pleasant thing to do while I experience the craving and watch it go away.
As part of this discussion, I encouraged the man at the table to be very aware of where this craving was coming from. Look all over the body – is it in the hands, the mouth, the chest? This is very useful information. In the end, though, if there is no hunger in our stomach, and the craving is coming from somewhere else, is it a good idea to be eating, even if it’s a healthy substitute? You’ll have to decide that.
Take Control: I’ve already discussed one way to take control, by facing your cravings and not being dragged around by them. Another way is to set some common-sense rules and just stick to them. I’m open to the possibility that that is easier said than done. I wonder sometimes if I don’t have more willpower than other people. I can’t really understand an unbreakable addiction (though I can have compassion), and have no interest in reading stories about people making poor life choices, Shopaholic, for instance. So maybe this is just me. But I set some food rules, like have a breakfast just big enough so I’m starting to get hungry right before lunch. If for some reason I have real hunger earlier, mid-morning snack will be fruit only. Same idea for lunch, with any afternoon snack being vegetables only. I have a sensible dinner, watch my portions. Some good dinner rules would be, serving bowls stay in the kitchen, served buffet style; use smaller plates; measure portions; seconds only on vegetables. I was having dessert every night, but decided to cut back so picked the nights that were important. Now we have dessert three nights a week, and when my children ask for dessert some other night, I scoff, “On a Monday?? People don’t eat dessert on Mondays.”
I also want to point out that the single most helpful food rule, hands down, was “Stop eating animal products.” When I went from vegetarian to vegan, most of the junk food I used to eat was suddenly off limits. Bye bye, M&Ms, see ya, doughnuts. I no longer wanted to eat misery. Most people would probably say that M&Ms having milk in them would be a real bummer for vegans, but my complexion, my waistline, and I are so thankful I’m not tempted any more.
The other staffer at the table made a very good point, that often these snack substitutes could be foods that we need more of anyway, such as fruit for dessert. Absolutely. It’s just that for me, fruit is a poor dessert; I feel like I’ve been had. And it leaves me in the habit of eating something after dinner, which is what I’d like to drop.
So, maybe that’s just me. Maybe I offered the guy lousy advice, though he had the other advice to choose from as well. So if you feel that the rice cakes and canned peaches are working for you, awesome. But if you feel like these foods are just papering over a steadfast problem, like they’re barely containing the craving, like you need to keep finding the next new product that will really make you stop wanting to eat a wheelbarrow of cookies every night, then maybe it’s time to Pay Attention.