Nutrition and Diet

What it Means that No Amount of Alcohol Consumption is Healthy

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A new massive global health study suggests what we’ve been told for decades isn’t true—or at least it isn’t the whole truth. One or two glasses of red wine isn’t good for overall health. The truth is that no amount of alcohol, no matter how small, can deliver health benefits that outweigh the costs. And here’s where things get interesting. While this study doesn’t contradict previous studies that indicate 1-2 adult beverages may have heart benefits, what it does say is that the increased risk across a range of cancers outweighs the heart benefits.


Look at Your Family History, and Talk to Your Doctor

It also means that it’s potentially important to consider individualized health risks. If up to 2 glasses of wine helps reduce the incident of fatal heart disease, while increasing cancer risk, then it’s fair to ask whether the conclusions of this study are valid for people with a long family history of heart disease but only minimal rates of cancer. Even then, it’s not as though the alcohol consumption doesn’t increase the risk of cancer, but it’s possible that such an individual who focuses on their heart health is able to live long enough to get the cancer that eventually kills them. On the flip side of the coin, if you have a more established family history of cancer, this is an even stronger reason to think twice about consistently indulging even moderate amounts of alcohol. This is the type of modification we make to our thinking in light on this study.


True at Every Age

Another interesting takeaway from this study is that it holds true at every age, and based on mortality rates is especially true for younger adults. From this National Public Radio report, here are the most compelling statistics:

The study looked at a broad range of risks posed by alcohol consumption, including diseases, driving accidents and self-harm. According to the report, alcohol led to 2.8 million deaths in 2016. It was the leading risk factor for disease worldwide, the study found, accounting for almost 10 percent of deaths among those ages 15 to 49.


Quality of Life, Knowing the Facts, Making Choices

Even if follow-up studies continue to suggest that any amount of alcohol isn’t the best possible health choice, we’re not sure stopping is the right choice for everyone who’s currently…partaking in the habit. Certainly, fewer seniors will take up the habit as their primary care physicians dial back or stop offering this advice altogether. But if you enjoy an adult beverage and/or have a family history of heart disease and if you understand there’s a higher risk of getting cancer that comes with this habit, this practice can be chocked up to personal choices and quality of life. Put differently, we don’t know anybody who makes the healthiest possible choice in every single situation.

And more to this point, while clinical studies are different than hospital-based care, when we talk about healthcare outside of hospital settings, know too that these types of studies must be consumed within the perspective of our personal health goals.



Food Choices More Effective than Nutritional Metrics?

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Sure, there are dozens of headline-grabbing studies that have us tweaking our diets and lifestyle for optimal health, but the fundamentals of good nutrition never change. Or do they? A new study published in JAMA suggests some fundamentals are, shall we say, more fundamental than others. For years, we were told if you want to lose or manage your weight, above all else, you need to watch and limit your calorie intake and increase your calorie consumption.

Here’s the key takeaway in this NYTimes feature story:

It found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.


Consistent Results Across Subgroups

The study also suggests that these weight loss benefits applied to whether the individual was following a low-fat or low-carb diet, as well as different genetics and insulin responses. Indeed, it’s easy to think that this type of approach might work for other people, but you think the meticulous details involved with counting calories in (diet) and calories out (exercise). It’s not as though you can’t lose weight, especially in the short-term, with this method. But it seems like the best long-term results must also take into account the composition and food choices of one’s diet—and the physiological effects that may be caused by the psychological act of counting calories.

It’s also easy to think that using added sugar and refined grains as a carrot for the rest of your diet and exercise is a solid strategy. And cutting these types of foods out of your diet altogether is hard in today’s culture and time demands. Still, incremental progress can be substantial progress over time. By picking out and eliminating even one food that you regularly eat that’s high in added sugar or refined grains and replacing it with a wholesome grain or vegetable, you’re likely doing yourself more good than all the calorie counts and exercise charts in the world.


The Human Body is a Complex Organism

In many ways, it makes us think of physics and the ways in which the observer and the observation itself can change the outcome of an experiment. Worrying about and counting calories really do seem to make the consumption of these calories less satisfying. Stress changes the composition of hormones and enzymes swirling around in our bodily system. If you combine counting calories with tracking your weight on a scale—or even just pant size, and who doesn’t do this?—but as you track more and more nutritional metrics, there becomes the very real possibility that you’re so removed from the holistic process of choosing what foods you eat and how you perceive these foods satisfying your appetite.