Perspective: Look Out The Window To Find It

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‘Observational studies’ studies can be unreliable, but accepting lab measurements without a reality check can be even more risky. In this post, using two examples, I show the value of ‘looking out the window’ to add real world perspective to lab results.

Main Points.

  • Lab data without real world perspective can be incomplete, even misleading;
  • Observational studies can be subjective, especially if based on memory and truthfulness;
  • ‘The French Paradox’ (where eating fat doesn’t cause heart disease) is alive and thriving in Europe;
  • ‘The Plant Paradox’ (where eating plants is perilous) is put under the miscroscope;
  • The Mediterraneans show sustained wisdom in matters of diet, and heart and gut health.  

If you’d like to skip straight to the good news about eating nutritious foods that support gut and heart health AND help you lose weight, check out what’s in the MMM! Lose Weight The Food Lover’s Way.

The Value of Looking Outside

As I often say, here at Muscles & Marbles, we look outside the window beyond the data, to put research (health, medical, nutrition) into perspective to see if it makes sense. A bit like checking how patients are feeling, rather than relying just on their charts. This is especially so, when it comes to the food we eat, to our lifestyles and the like.

(It’s a bit like that other lens, the one they’re calling the ‘pub test’ (does it sound real?) even though ‘pub’ is a misnomer here. The expression is the ‘sniff test’ (does it smell real?) but don’t get me started on degradation of language…)

Some scientists say that ‘observational’ studies are the least reliable of all; that is, where subjects are questioned rather than measurements taken from them by experts. When it comes to nutrition, observational studies become even less reliable when they’re based on questionnaires filled out from memory. That is, if they ask subjects what they ate yesterday or last week.

Another element comes into play in matters of food – guilt – where people don’t always stick to the truth. You can see how results could be skewed.  

The French Paradox

My first example of why checking with the real world makes sense is butter. The French eat more butter (and cream and goose and duck fat) than any other country on earth yet, surprise, surprise, they have the second lowest rate of heart disease in the world, equal to Japan. (South Korea is the lowest).

The official explanation is ‘The French Paradox’, an enigma that stumped the experts for decades. The NIH officially defines this paradox as: ‘low coronary heart disease (CHD) death rates despite high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat’. In other words, high fat intake but low heart disease.

Yet, a look out the window would have shown them that the paradox is alive and thriving outside France – in Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium. These countries have similar low rates of heart disease to France and they’re all in Western Europe, closest to the Mediterranean.  

What do they have in common other than geographical location? Their diets are all rich in saturated fats (think Swiss cheese, Belgian mayonnaise, Italian meatballs and Spanish omelettes).

The French Paradox: Low coronary heart disease (CHD) death rates despite high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat.

National Institutes Of Health, USA

By the way, the areas with the highest rates of heart disease in the world are not in Western Europe – but in Eastern Europe & Russia, the Middle East, Africa, Pacific Islands and India, none of which has a diet with anything like the fat content of the French and their Western neighbours.

Even so, many dietitians are still banging the drum that fat causes heart disease. Presumably, they’ve not thought to look out the window to check real world health statistics.     

The Plant Paradox

Another dietary conundrum solvable by a reality check is about the perils of plants.

The name Dr Steven Gundry’s may ring some bells. He’s a cardiologist on a mission to ‘dramatically improve human health, happiness, and longevity through my unique vision of diet and nutrition’. He’s also bestselling author of The Longevity Paradox, The Plant Paradox and Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution.

The dust cover of the Plant Paradox gives you some clues to what’s inside: ‘The Plant Paradox illuminates the hidden dangers lurking in your salad bowl.’

‘Once in a generation a doctor and a book comes along that completely changes the way we think about food and our health. Dr. Gundry is that physician and The Plant Paradox is that book. Following his advice, like I do personally, is life changing.’ 

Tony Robbins

In the book, Gundry builds an elaborate case for avoiding nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, and capsicums. He argues that these plants contain lectins and glycoalkaloids, which are their ‘first line of defense against bugs, viruses, bacteria, animals, and even humans.’

In other words, they’re defending themselves against being eaten by us by producing compounds to harm us, which is why we should avoid them. He presents a lot of research that bolsters his position, including gluten (the source of much intolerance these days) which he says is also a lectin.

...gluten is just one variety of a common, and highly toxic, plant-based protein called lectin. ….Once ingested (lectins) incite a kind of chemical warfare in our bodies, causing inflammatory reactions that can lead to weight gain and serious health conditions.

From summary of ‘The Plant Paradox’ by Dr Steven Gundry

Not so Fast

Not everyone is convinced, including nutrition experts at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Dr Qi Sun recommends that people follow the Mediterranean diet or a balanced plant-based diet to promote health, instead of following Gundry’s lectin-free approach. Qi even says: ‘Going lectin-free may in fact do more harm than good’.

The Harvard article also says: ‘the Mediterranean diet (MD) has, for the third year in row, been named as the overall best healthy diet. … Based on studies of MD it is now well recognised that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and healthy fats are good for us, particularly our hearts.’

Other researchers aren’t convinced by Gundry either, deploring the ‘anti-lectin propaganda that we read in the popular press and in opinions expressed on numerous web sites.’

If you decided to eat lectin-containing nightshades anyway, Gundry has the answer. If you put in serious prep work, you can overcome some of the risk:  

  • Peel them, deseed them and pressure-cook them;
  • Eat fruit only in season, when they’re ripe and with a lower lectin content
  • Limit the portion size and the frequency with which you eat nightshades.

‘Better still,’ he says, ‘why not ‘brighten your day by eliminating nightshades altogether?’ Compared to the elaborate food prep regime, that may sound like a better alternative but, as we’ll see later, are nightshades so deadly that we have to cut them out?  

It’s not just nightshades though; grains and legumes are also suspect, along with squashes and pumpkins, yet the problems Grundy raises have never been seen in human studies. ‘(They) were only performed in cells, plants, or animals, so the results do not necessarily translate to human health,’ say researchers. In reality, most lectins are destroyed by cooking, soaking, sprouting, fermenting, boiling, and canning, and are only harmful if eaten raw.

The example given is raw kidney beans. Have you ever tried raw kidney beans? I haven’t. Apart from being poisonous, I value my teeth.

...the Mediterranean diet (MD) has, for the third year in row, been named as the overall best healthy diet… Based on studies of MD it is now well recognised that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and healthy fats are good for us, particularly our hearts

Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

Looking out the Window

Checking outside again, the first thing you’ll notice is that nightshades like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are a huge part of the Mediterranean Diet, a diet routinely ranked as the healthiest on the planet including in 2024. Where would Italian cuisine be without tomatoes?  

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not dumping on Gundry; some of his videos are highly informative and his research is fascinating. What troubles me is that he sells his own supplements (branded Gundry MD), which look like they put back all the nutrients we’d skip if we followed his advice.

It’s a pretty  lucrative idea, too: Yahoo Finance reported that Gundry’s Total Restore celebrated sales of over 2 million units in 2022, with each 90-capsule bottle selling for over US$100.  Customer reviews are highly positive and include endorsements from celebrities like Tony Robbins. 

Yet, in 2022, Illuminate Labs analysed the ingredients of Total Restore and found something unexpected: what they called ‘underdosing’ of the main components. In other words, they found there was too little to benefit gut health and, in many cases, the levels were lower than those found in fresh, whole foods.

So, you could cut out a pile of tasty, colourful, nutritious plants, spend thousands in supplements and end up no better off – or you could check outside for the healthiest way of eating and potentially be much better off.  

The doses shown are highly questionable in our opinion, and we cannot locate any medical evidence that these ingredients at such low doses improve gut health.

Analysis of Total Restore by Illuminate Labs

Good Food. Healthy Gut. Strong Heart.

I’ve been a big fan of the Mediterranean way of eating for decades. It’s not just the huge variety of tasty ingredients, it’s the idea of preparing and enjoying food slowly, with friends and family and maybe a glass of wine. That’s why I’ve followed it for nearly 30 years

Recently, I pooled the latest research into eating for sustained weight loss, improved heart heart and fighting dementia into a short eBook called the MMM! Lose Weight The Food Lover’s Way (MMM stands for Muscles & Marbles Mediterranean and it’s an ‘anti-diet; you eat until you’re satisfied, never going hungry).

In it, I delve into gut health research from Gundry and quite a few others and discover that fibre, the first thing stripped from plant foods when processed, is vital for both a healthy gut and a healthy immune system.

I also dig more deeply into the history of the Med Diet and compare it with low fat, low cholesterol diets designed to promote heart health – and find more paradoxes.

The Mediterraneans knew a thing or two about healthy, scrumptious, satisfying eating long before people started messing around with low fat, low cholesterol, low taste diets – that had ended up having no impact on heart disease.

Get the full enchilada, brie and omelette in MMM! Lose Weight The Food Lover’s Way. Click below to find out what’s inside.

Lose Weight

MMM! LOSE WEIGHT THE FOOD LOVER’S WAY

Discover The Muscles & Marbles Mediterranean Anti-diet

Kim Brebach

Kim Brebach

Hi, I’m Kim Brebach, boomer, information researcher, technical writer and Joiner of Dots at M&M. In my spare time, I review wines and love to cook.

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