Data is often open to interpretation
During the school year, I teach language arts in a junior high for seven hours a day five days a week. A conservative estimate of the time I spend weekly creating lessons and grading papers adds another seven hours.
To practice what I preach in this column, I work out about 15 hours a week and spend another four hours or so preparing a week's worth of snacks and meals.
To write this column, I usually need between three and four hours far less time than I needed when I started doing this 23 years ago. But now, something else just as important to the process takes far more time.
To get those, I read constantly. Many nights, I never turn on the television.
Every month, I receive 15 health-and-fitness or sports-related publications. Every week, one Internet service e-mails me links to noteworthy articles and studies. Every day, another Internet service does the same. I also read two daily newspapers.
I'm not telling you this to impress you. I'm telling you this to confess.
It's too much. I can't always keep up.
I just don't have the time to read every single article.
So I do what you probably do when you're time-crunched: scan the headlines, read the lead, and if something grabs your attention, you read on maybe even until the end.
But there's a problem with that, especially in health-and-fitness related articles. Too many news services no longer see health and fitness reporting as a public service, but rather as a way to attract attention.
As a result, while little of all this writing I'm reading is ever wrong, it certainly is open to interpretation especially this year when it deals with dietary fat.
To start 2012, the British Medical Journal published research that suggests eating fried food does not I repeat, does not compromise your heart health.
The study of Spaniards, all between the ages 29 and 69 and none of whom had a history of heart disease, was extensive and lengthy. A total of 41,000 subjects were followed for 12 years, and the amount and type of fried fried they ate was recorded weekly.
Next, the researchers tallied all the data and crunched the numbers. After considering mitigating factors such as body-mass index, total caloric consumption, gender, and age, they found absolutely no link to the amount of fried food eaten and the likelihood of heart disease, so that's what they published.
And since that's contrary to what mainstream medicine has been saying for at least a half century, that's what many news services stressed. But this study doesn't necessarily mean that you can go out and eat all the fried food you want and never develop heart disease.
That's because while the results of this study are not subject to question, they are open to interpretation.
For one, you're not a Spaniard living in Spain. Not only is their culture significantly different from ours, but their method of frying food also is too.
Typically they use olive oil or sunflower oil to fry, not the cooking oils or the solid fats we tend to use. A similar study of 41,000 Americans eating this way could very well lead to far different results.
But that's not to say all fat is bad, and that's the point to Kate Lowenstein's article in the April issue of Health, "Yes, You Can Eat Fat." In it, Lowenstein references a 2010 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition review of 21 studies that fails to find a link between saturated (the "bad") fat consumption and either heart disease or stroke.
She also points out the many benefits to "good" fats, including their ability to help you lose weight in restrictive dietary situations. In fact, one section is subtitled "Eat fat, lose weight."
This is certainly possible. The Atkins diet and all the others it spawned attests to that. Still, you better be careful when interpreting this information.
While swapping healthy fats for either unhealthy fats or highly processed carbohydrates could cause you to lose weight and is certainly going to help your cardiovascular health it doesn't have to.
Unless you weigh and measure foods, it's just as likely to lead to weight gain. Fat is, after all, the most concentrated energy source. Per gram, it contains 225 percent more calories than carbs or protein.
Furthermore, study after study has shown the typical person underestimates food amounts.
Let's say you decide to improve your diet by adding more healthy fats. No more saturated fat-filled fast-food lunches for you at work. You'll make a simple salad every day with a homemade vinegar and oil dressing and finish the meal with natural peanut butter on whole wheat crackers.
While this sounds like a good plan, the calories could be considerable if you don't measure and weigh amounts.
Very few people put what's considered a single serving of salad dressing, two tablespoons, on a side salad, let alone one that's the main course. So if you use six tablespoons of your homemade dressing, you're consuming nearly 430 calories.
Add just one ounce of a moderately healthy cheese, and you're already over 500 calories of pure fat.
Even if you limit yourself to two tablespoons of peanut butter, your total fat consumption this is not a total calorie count! tallies 650 calories. And that's for a single meal.