These aren’t all “health foods” in the traditional sense. The point of this article is that these foods are better than most people think, and that’s really good news because all of the foods on the list are delicious. These write ups ran a bit long, so I will only post the first five now and then another five in a few days. I hope you like it.
1. Bacon. I love bacon and it’s statistically likely that you do too. I know there’s been some bad bacon press recently, and a lot of people, namely my unpaid editor/website designer/mom are concerned about the reports of increased cancer risk associated with smoked and/or processed meats. As a side note, I recommend and eat organic and/or humanely raised and sustainable pork because it’s healthier, tastier, and better for the environment. I like Niman Ranch or small locally farmed pork products for this reason https://www.nimanranch.com/. I also avoid turkey bacon because it doesn’t taste as good as regular bacon, also it looks weird, like cartoon bacon but in real life.
While there are a lot of high quality studies that show that eating meat is not harmful to your health, there are two recent studies that show increased risk of stomach cancer and colon cancer associated with eating smoked and processed meats like bacon. These recent reports regarding bacon are reasonably well done but the media reporting of these studies are examples of how easily we are misled by scientific data, special interest groups, and the media.
I am not a big fan of hot dogs, corndogs, bologna, and other processed commercialized cold cuts and mass produced meats, partially because almost all of these animals came from CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations) which pose many health and environmental risks to America. I could go on and on. But high quality bacon, yeah I like that. So these studies concerned me. https://www.sciencealert.com/yes-bacon-has-been-linked-to-cancer-again-here-s-how-bad-processed-meats-really-are-for-you So I looked a little deeper and applied some of the principles I learned in medical school with a little bit of 5th grade math. Here’s the truth. First off, even if these studies are completely true and these meats really do cause an 18% increase in stomach and colon cancer, as they claim, what does that really mean? I know 18% increase sounds like a lot. Also, I’m a doctor and I know stomach cancer is very bad.
Uhh, Dr. Jimmy, I thought this article was going to be good news. WTF?… I’m getting there. Also you are coming off a bit aggressive. In the U.S. you have a 0.8% lifetime risk of getting stomach cancer. If you’re math challenged, that’s less than one in 100. This study finds that eating bacon raises your risk by 18%. What’s confusing is that this study doesn’t mean your new risk is 18.8% (that would be bad) because an 18% increase on 0.8% is 18.8%. Actually, your lifetime risk becomes 0.94% (0.8 X 1.18= 0.94). So
your risk was less than one in 100 with no bacon in your life, add some bacon, and it’s still less than 1 in 100, in fact it barely goes up at all, less than two tenths of one percent. Uh, I can live with that if it means I get bacon too. The longer you live, the higher your risk of stomach cancer, perhaps the reason bacon eaters stomach cancer risk is slightly higher is because bacon is healthy and making them live longer, thus increasing their risk for stomach cancer. I think I just broke the matrix. Actually, this is not how statistics work, but I almost had you buying that circular logic. “Your risk of cancer goes up less than two tenths of one percent” is not an exciting headline, so the media and special interest groups try to fool us with statistical terms like relative risk and tell us that our cancer risk goes up 18%. If you were single in the 90’s and early 2000’s, every sexual encounter put you at risk for HIV/AIDS which was a death sentence back then (unless you played point guard for the Lakers). What’s worse, those encounters, unlike real bacon, were probably devoid of any smoky baconey goodness, unless you were having sex with Emeril Lagasse.
Incidentally, I found a way to increase your chances of winning the lottery by 100%! All you have to do is buy 1 more ticket. Unfortunately, your odds remain low at 0.000000006% but it’s up from 0.000000003%! This is an example of how deceiving relative risk statistics can be.
One thing that people lose sight of, is that when we decide not to eat a food for health reasons we have to eat something in its place. So you don’t eat bacon because of the 0.14% absolute increase in risk of stomach cancer. What do you eat in it’s place? If your choice is kale or low carb pancakes/ fine, you right, good choice. If the answer is cereal, pop-tarts, waffles, or bagels you just spiked your glucose, increased insulin, worsened your cholesterol profile, and gained weight. These foods can lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity, all of which are much more likely to cause harm than that statistically insignificant bump in your stomach cancer risk, also all of those foods aren’t nearly as tasting or filling as bacon.
So, when your publicist/unpaid editor/website designer/Mom tells you to stop eating bacon because it’s bad for you, you should stop eating bacon in front of her because she’s your mother, but then later you can enjoy some secret bacon, because it’s actually fine for you health-wise. I think “Secret Bacon” would be a great name for a band. So go forth and enjoy your bacon without guilt or regret, just don’t go nuts.
2. Nuts. Many people read food labels, or listen to incorrect diet advice and conclude that things like chips, crackers, and pretzels are healthier than nuts because they contain less fat and calories and they are all found in the junk food aisles of the grocery store. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nuts have healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein. They help promote healthy gut bacteria and help fight diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even breast cancer. While many of you know of the virtue of eating almonds and walnuts, you probably don’t know that there are a pair of even tastier, healthier, and sometimes saltier nuts. The amazing pair of nuts I’m referring to are pistachio and macadamia nuts. These two tasty nuts have more healthy fat, less carbs, and a lot more nutty flavor for your mouth.
I know macadamia nuts are pricey but if you get them from the bulk bin at the supermarket or from Costco, you get more nut for your buck. Did I mention how good these nuts taste in your mouth? So good.
In Sicily, pistachios are sacred like potatoes in Idaho, vodka in Russia, or meth in Reno. They’re not just delicious, but they contain a magical compound called nitric oxide that helps improve blood flow to our nether regions making for better and more robust erections which is probably why the Sicilians put pistachios on everything.
Interestingly, French men note a significant but temporary increase in height when they eat pistachios, other foods containing nitric oxide and Viagra. This allows them to look even farther down their noses on us Americans when we struggle with their ridiculous language on vacation in France. If you make it to France, be sure to include a visit to the graves of our fallen soldiers who died liberating their overrated country. I propose that if we have to go in there again, we keep the Southern half of their country and turn it into a redneck vacation paradise, just to piss them off. I apologize for this rant. I’m a little cranky. I need some coffee.
3. Coffee. You may have heard that you shouldn’t drink too much coffee but the overwhelming majority of new evidence supports coffee as a health drink. The Finnish people drink more coffee than anyone else on earth. The average adult male in Finland averages a ridiculous nine cups of coffee per day (their cups are a little smaller than ours, but still). They are also a super healthy group of people.
I know what you are thinking. You are going to say that it’s because of their cross country skiing, their saunas, their fatty fish intake, polar bear plunging and their rampant inbreeding. You may be right, but one of the things you can do when you are measuring the effect of a variable is to measure the “dose dependent response” by that I mean, you can ascertain if people who drink 12 cups are healthier than those who drink 8. You can then find out if those people are healthier than those who drink 4, all the way down to the one Finnish guy who only drinks Monster Energy Drink and Blue Mountain Dew. P.S. He’s super unhealthy. It turns out, that in the Finnish study there is a dose dependent response and the heavier coffee drinkers were the on average the healthier people. So assuming you don’t have any negative side effects, coffee can be considered very healthy.
Because of a sub-par national diet, coffee is the major source of anti-oxidants for a lot of Americans but studying coffee in the U.S. population is tough because we don’t drink that much when compared to those cousin loving Fins. Also, we mix in all sorts of unhealthy shit like sweetened creamers, caramel syrup, and whiskey. Whiskey being the most healthful of the three unless you fly commercial airliners for a living. Also, our serving sizes are so variable, a serving of coffee to some Americans is a 72 ounce trucker sized plastic mug and to others it’s a tall latte, which is Starbuckian for small. Incidentally, if you go to Italy and order a “latte”, they will give you milk. If you order a cappuccino, you will get a Starbucksesque latte, and if you order a machiatto, you will get a Starbucks-like cappuccino, but I digress. Lucky for us, the Finnish people have pretty much standardized their coffee cup serving size, thus making studying them a lot easier.
The bottom line is that as long as you don’t put a bunch of unhealthy crap in your coffee, you can expect to experience better glucose control, more energy, better mood, better athletic performance, lower risk of parkinson’s, alzheimer’s, many forms of cancer especially colon cancer, stroke, heart disease, also it really helps your poop come out smooth and easy like butter.
4. Butter. I’ve been told that butter makes you fat. Butter gives you heart disease. Butter should be replaced with vegetable oils and unsaturated fats like margarine. Butter doesn’t taste good. False, false, false, and sofa king false. Sofa King Healthy was one of the proposed titles of our book, by the way. I thought it was funny but misleading, and by that I mean perfect. Back to butter, it is obviously delicious and if you read my previous posts, you know that margarine and most refined vegetable oils are processed poison https://drjimmywestbrook.com/2019/01/08/food-rants-the-10-health-foods-that-are-making-us-fat-and-memes/.
A recent study showed that people with higher butter fat levels in their blood had huge reductions in their risk of type 2 diabetes (30-40% which is a real difference because type 2 diabetes is super common these days) and there has never been a well documented link between butter and heart disease. In fact, the countries that consume the most butter seem to have some of the lowest rates of heart disease, France being first on the list, despite high rates of smoking and the fact that French gyms are reserved for tourists use only.
Organic grass fed butter has almost no carbs and is environmentally sustainable. It’s delicious, and high in very healthy omega-3’s, and rich in buttery goodness. If that’s wrong I don’t want to be right. So start finding ways to get more healthy butter into your meals and get rid of the processed vegetable oils. I’ve mentioned how much I love vegetables and how healthy they are for us. This isn’t news but you should still check out my top ten reasons to eat more veggies for more information. One thing I left out is how there are a lot of vegetable eaters who don’t absorb many of the healthy vitamins that are in their veggies. Vegetables contain fat soluble vitamins and if you are eating your veggies without fat then you are likely just pooping out those important nutrients. If we cook veggies with fats like clarified butter, our bodies are more able to absorb the fat soluble vitamins the veggies contain and we are also much more likely to go back for seconds. Please stop steaming your veggies.
Bonus cooking tip: You can make clarified butter by melting and filtering butter, thus removing any milk protein that can burn and smoke. Clarified butter has a very high smoke point, around 460 degrees, which means you can use it to cook vegetables, seafood, and meats at high temps. When you use oils with lower smoke points like olive oil, high temperatures can cause the oil to break down and create unhealthy byproducts that can cause increased inflammation. To be clear, it’s OK to cook vegetables with olive oil, just not at those high temperatures. Clarified butter is also safe for people with lactose intolerance, and dairy sensitivity because the lactose and problematic proteins have been removed. You can make clarified butter in advance and keep it in the refrigerator in a jar. If you don’t have a jar, just use whatever you have lying around the house.
I average eating a little less than a stick of butter per day, usually I cook with it but if I am hungry and lazy I will salt it a bit and eat it straight like cheese. Don’t judge me until you try it. It goes great with red wine.
5. Red Wine. Red wine has been one of the most controversial topics in nutrition for many years. There are many reasons for this controversy. First, doctors and nutritionists are really scared to recommend any alcohol because of all the potential hazards associated with it’s use. I don’t blame them. Second, there is a strong association between red wine and other healthy lifestyles like eating vegetables, yoga, and McDonald’s avoidance which can make the data less conclusive whereas things like Busch Light, Sailor’s Choice Vodka, and Four Loko are associated with unhealthy lifestyles, specifically high rates of sexually transmitted Diseases, truck related accidents, and truck related Sexually transmitted diseases. So, many experts dismiss red wine health claims as hype and association bias. I respectfully think these experts have their heads up their asses because there’s a mountain of evidence to support red wine’s many health claims.
Longevity data shows that moderate drinkers live longer than non-drinkers, and alcoholics don’t live that long at all. Of all the alcoholic drinks, red wine shows the most benefit by a wide margin.
If you don’t drink, good for you. I’m not trying to get anyone to start drinking, but if you already drink alcohol, then you owe it to your health to make sure that you are drinking some red wine.
Red wine or “Mommy Juice” as it was known in my house as a child has been associated with preventing diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, certain cancers, inflammatory diseases, and gut health. The most important benefit is seen in your heart. Red wine seems to be one of the few things that will raise your good cholesterol HDL and lower your bad LDL. Red Wine also lowers blood pressure and lowers total body inflammation which is important for heart health and preventing myocardial infarction AKA heart attacks.
Red wine may help us achieve a healthy weight if we switch from a different higher carb drink like Rum and Coke, Gin and Tonic, or Red Bull Vodka Slushy’s. As a side note, many people do not know these fun facts about tonic water: It has as much sugar and calories as a Coke. It was invented as a way to get British Soldiers to take their malaria prevention medication (quinine) by mixing it with gin. It glows very bright when exposed to black light, like the remote controls at a Motel 6.
All alcohol is high in calories but red wine is fairly low in carbs (usually between 2-3 carbs per serving). Red wine has been shown to help your good gut bacteria flourish which is helpful for your metabolism. It has also shown to help convert your white fat cells into brown fat. White fat is the stuff we are all trying to get rid of while brown fat is the kind we all want, or at least we will want after reading this paragraph. Brown fat was previously thought to be only found in babies and functioned to help them keep their body temperature stable in cold because babies can’t shiver and are too lazy to clothe themselves. We recently found that adults have brown fat and it serves as a little furnace where we can burn excess calories without working out or storing them. More research is needed in this area but if scientists could get better at isolating this brown fat thing, we would all have a much easier time maintaining our ideal weight.
So if you’re drinking beer, Jaeger bombs, Vegas Bombs, Irish Car Bombs, or anything thing that has booze and comes out of a slurpy machine, do your heart, waistline and self-respect a favor and switch to a nice oaky cabernet or jammy zinfandel.
I’ll post five more Unhealthy Foods that aren’t, in the next week or so.