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Nutrition advisory committee calls for changes

Published April 04. 2015 09:00AM

Some call it frustrating, maddening, the reason why they don't pay more attention to the latest research in health and fitness. I call it something else.


The "it" so unpleasant to so many is the chameleon-like quality that seems so prevalent in health-and-fitness research. A prime example of this occurred on Feb. 19 when new dietary recommendations were proposed by a government health advisory committee to be part of the publication of the Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments dietary guidelines for 2015 guidelines that will affect everything from federal lunch programs to doctors' advice to food labels.

The biggest about-face was the forward march into the land of egg consumption. Since the inception of this column, eggs have gone from the number-one reason for high cholesterol readings to a food to be consumed sparingly (from 3 per week to 1 per day) to the aforementioned committee's belief that dietary cholesterol found in high amounts in eggs is "not considered a nutrient concern for overconsumption."

Statements similar to the last one I first wrote 25 years ago at the height of the eggs-are-evil craze. I wasn't being a contrarian just to create a controversial column. I did so because I knew enough established science such as the body actually creates cholesterol when it's lacking in the diet to question the studies linking egg consumption with elevated blood cholesterol levels.

The second big about-face is the warm embrace of coffee. Once thought to produce the high blood readings that are often the harbinger of heart disease, the advisory committee now considers consuming 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day to positively affect health. That's because recent research shows caffeine the element in coffee that once concerned mainstream medicos combats many of the ailments it was once thought to promote, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

A third significant though a bit more moderate recommendation concerns sodium ingestion. The advisory committee feels that limiting sodium ingestion to 2,300 milligrams for all ages insures good health, which is a bit different from the present position on the matter taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC's official stance still remains that less than 1,500 milligrams per day is best for those over 50 and that everyone else should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams per day despite a study published in the April 2014 issue of the American Journal of Hypertension that found those guidelines to be "excessively and unrealistically low."

The University of Copenhagen researchers who penned the article determined that the "vast majority" of Americans consume between 2,645 milligrams of sodium and 4,945 milligrams of sodium per day, a range they claim is actually healthier than the CDC's guidelines. They base this on mortality studies that show consumption greater than or less than the 2,645 to 4,945 milligrams consumed by most Americans are the ranges that increase the chance of death.

In short, many see the dietary recommendations made on Feb. 19 as nothing more than another never-ending pendulum swing inside the frictionless vacuum we call health-and-fitness research. But I see as each subsequent study as cracking the vacuum a bit and creating a bit of the friction that will eventually cause the string and bob to stop.

Unfortunately, even if you agree that the last statement is true, that doesn't help you presently, especially in the pursuit of optimal health and fitness. So you may want to do what I do.

If I had to give it a name, I'd call it "creating personal constants."

Through trial-and-error experimentation, I've determined certain strategies work for me and certain ones don't regardless of the latest research. As I've written more than once before, it's rare that I don't wake up twice in a night and eat, something that I started doing intentionally more than 20 years ago as a way to keep from catabolizing muscle mass as I slept.

Now, I'd like to stop, but I can't. I wake up less than an hour after first falling asleep and one thought dominates: "My body needs food, or all I'll just toss and turn."

So I eat, and as long as I consume between 300 and 400 calories, I'm fine. More than that can cause acid reflux.

Now depending on which study you read, this after-bed eating is either of little consequence (provided the calories are part of the amount needed to maintain a healthy weight) or a sure-fire way to reduce the quality of your sleep and create weight gain.

Since the former rather than the latter seems to be true for me, I don't get bothered when subsequent research questions my practice.

The problem with suggesting to you to engage in the trial-and-error method is that it requires time and a genuine curiosity about the inner workings of the body, and you may not possess one, the other, or both. If that's the case, you can focus on applying the constants that I feel work for everyone and making adjustments from there.

Next week's column will share those constants and show you how to put them to use.

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