A dish with wok on a table.

New Year Special: Combining the fads in 1 dish to create a healthy dish… supposedly

The Ivory Embassy wishes all of you a happy new year! The doors to the Embassy are finally reopened after a well-needed Christmas break, and we know exactly what you need right now. You need to get healthy. You need a healthy diet. We cleaned our office kitchen to create a healthy, healthier dish, by combining the fads out there. Does the dish stand the scientific test?

A new year means a new resolution, which should improve your current life. Have you decided yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Grab a pen and paper and let your imagination flow.

You probably won’t need any imagination after all. It’s the same as always, and if you are like most people with new year’s resolutions, it will look a little bit like this:

⊕ Lose those annoying extra kilos (pounds)

⊕ Stop smoking

⊕ Start exercising more

⊕ Cut back on that booze (not too much, though, weekends are still free zones)

In short, you want to start a healthier life. And guess what, you can count on the internet to give you advice.

There’s no shortage of tips, tricks, and recipes to improve your life. Follow all of the life hacks offered by the wild wide web, and you could live a healthy life until your 130s.

Healthier living is a great idea! The Embassy supports you 100%, and we will do our best to help you out. Why not start your healthy lifestyle A.S.A.P. and do it together with us? Let’s see where the internet tips and tricks take us in the kitchen.

We turned the Embassy reception into a kitchen and prepared a fabulous dish for you that could, in theory, add 50 healthy years to your life. The taste is secondary by now, but if you really want to look like a cover boy/girl, you will not mind some pain.

Recipe: The Combined Magnificence to Create a Healthy Dish

You can play around with the ingredient quantities depending on how many servings you’re preparing. Remember to wash your hands before starting.  

Step 1: Add Blueberries

Different berries.
Berries. From Pixabay created by Maklay62.

Obviously, you should always have your five-a-day so let’s add some fruit to our menu. And what could possibly be better than the mighty blueberry? Hailed as a superfood for eons, one could get the impression. It is, to paraphrase the clean-eating prophets out there, full of the good stuff (you know, that stuff), violently erupting with precious antioxidants, ready to spearhead the cathartic cleansing of your disease-ridden body. So here’s what you can expect from the blueberry:

⊕ Lower the risk of heart disease

⊕ Lower the risk of cancer

⊕ Reduce signs of aging

⊕ Anti-inflammatory properties

⊕ Basically, cure all your ailments

The reality check

What are those fabled antioxidants, and what are they good for? In the health bloggers’ world, it usually refers to plant-based compounds that swipe away the bad stuff by their magical properties. In reality, they do as their name suggests; by their chemical properties, they prevent (or revert) stuff from being (or having been) oxidized. They are against (anti-) oxidation (-oxidants).

Yes, right, oxidation. What was that again? Oxygen, being, in general, a rather useful molecule, has some downsides to it. It can form reactive oxygen species, which, for simplicity’s sake, we will define as stuff that reacts with other stuff in your cell in a destructive fashion. Stuff that can render proteins useless and damage your DNA, which could lead to mutations (here comes the cancer link…).

Well then, there’s a clear case for once. A bucket of berries daily and your DNA and proteins will stay in mint condition. Goodbye diseases.

A nice way to sell books, maybe, but not quite the magical cure. While it is true that studies in cell culture and in some mouse models have shown a somewhat beneficial effect of antioxidants, no proper clinical study would suggest a benefit for humans yet. And as discussed in a previous post, by pouring stuff on cells, you don’t necessarily learn much about what is happening in humans.

We sure don’t mean to prevent anyone from eating berries. They are certainly healthier than many other foodstuffs and tasty at that. However, we have some questions concerning the very concept of antioxidative salvation. For once, it seems to suggest that in our day-to-day lives we are, in general, criminally deprived of anti-oxidative things. We doubt that that’s the case if you are following a marginally balanced diet in a wealthy western state, and wealthy westerners are, after all, the foremost promoters of the superfood revolution.

We also wonder how much good stuff you would get from a certain amount of berries. How much of it will end up where it is needed?  If you were to eat, say, a kilogram of dried blueberries, how much of those antioxidants would end up where?

Just now, we read in an article published in the Journal of Zhejiang University Science B that 1 gram of blueberries (grown in the Nanjing province) contains 9.5 mg of phenolic and 36 mg of flavonoid, and 24.4 mg of anthocyanidin. These three compound classes appear to be the main antioxidants in blueberries. So a gram of (dried) blueberries has about  70 mg of antioxidants.

The kilo you just devoured will give you 70 grams of those precious compounds, but how much will it end up in the cells where it could benefit? Will most of it race through your digestive system undeterred and find the nearest exit? Most of it just might. Will it be divided equally among all cells in your body? We have our doubts. Will it be shuttled to those cells that need it most? Possibly. And if it reaches those cells in need, will it have an effect? If you keep the berries coming, will more antioxidants mean better health? We don’t know and doubt that anyone really does, and here’s a general problem with nutritional science, we just don’t know that much.

Step 2: Add Chia seeds

Macro photo of Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica).
Chia Seeds macro 2.jpg taken from Wikimedia Commons. Created by Daniel Schwen. This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

Another food full of antioxidating goodies is the chia seed. On top of its antioxidizing eminence, we found it being praised as:

⊕ a cancer-fighting seed

⊕ the secret to non-aging skin

⊕ variably a diabetes cure or prevention

⊕ the new secret to weight loss

⊕ an endurance booster, etc, etc…

The reality check

Surely we must add this wonderful foodstuff to our menu. But wait, all these claims have in common that they are usually based on one (maybe two) scientific publications of very questionable quality or on proper science that is taken out of context or misinterpreted. We’ve been reading scientific publications for more than ten years, and all of the research reporting magical chia seed properties is published in journals we’ve never heard of.

We can hear the shouts: “Mainstream science does not allow for thinking outside the box; people with different ideas are systematically excluded and prevented from publishing in the prestigious journals of the Ivory Club. Anyways, look where the money goes. They are all in bed with big agro-business and the fast-food mafia, just as they are in bed with big pharma, which is hiding the cure for cancer. Dissent and diversity of opinions are suppressed. The attempt to return the focus to natural products is ridiculed and slated.”

We can only tell you: It is not so. It is just very bad science that supports many of these claims. And you have to take our word for it. We have no definite proof. Another topic for another, much longer post.

Let’s use the chia seed as an endurance booster to illustrate what we mean by questionable scientific evidence. Two independent articles advertising this property of the majestic chia seed pointed us in the same direction for ‘scientific’ evidence: An article in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. The researchers wanted to analyze the potential to use chia seeds for carb-loading before an endurance event as an alternative to a sugary drink (Gatorade in this case).

They tested two groups of endurance runners for their performance; one received a drink where 100% of the calories came from Gatorade, the other group got a drink where 50% of the calories came from chia seeds and 50% came from Gatorade. They found no performance difference between the groups and concluded that chia seeds are effective for carb-loading and can be used to reduce the amount of Gatorade consumed (thus reducing the sugar intake). So far, so good. What they failed to test, however, was how a runner would perform if they simply gave him 50% fewer calories (i.e. half the Gatorade without adding chia seeds). Thus the study lacks one essential control and does not allow for any conclusion to be drawn. It is quite worthless.

This is just one example of many used in the health-crazed blogosphere where scientific studies are presented as evidence that is either poorly conceived, badly executed, or ridiculously over-interpreted. Usually, to fit a preconceived narrative of good vs. bad ingredients, cleansing properties, salvation, and eternal happiness through food.

Step 3: Do NOT add processed or red meat (go vegan instead)

Dish with charcuterie and pickles with a big red cross.

Don’t even think about it! Have you seen the headlines? The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified meat as a cause of cancer. Processed meat causes cancer, and red meat probably causes cancer.

Go all-in vegan instead. Health gurus all over claim it to be the healthiest choice, so why not? Bloggers and gurus promoting veganism, often referring to The China Study (a.k.a. the Vegan Bible), go as far as to claim that animal protein promotes cancer growth.

This is often based on studies where rats were given casein (a protein found in cow’s milk) in varying doses after exposure to high carcinogens. They demonstrated that cancer growth could be controlled by changing the concentration of casein. The results were clear. Higher doses of casein led to increased cancer growth, while the lowest dose kept the rats tumor-free.

So, with these experiments in mind, we can easily conclude that all animal proteins are bad and those plant proteins are the way to go. That’s how it works.

The reality check:  

The meat:

The evidence is clear here, processed meat causes cancer, and red meat probably causes cancer. The IARC has convincing studies to back this up.

While this sounds nasty and would concern any meat-lover, it’s important to understand what is assessed here. The IARC does not tell you the probability of developing cancer, the amount of meat that could cause cancer, or how much cancer you could expect. Based on their evidence, it simply tells you that processed meat can cause cancer. It doesn’t tell you how potent it is at it.

Since we realize this is confusing, let’s express it differently: imagine an airplane. A hypothetical International Agency for Research on Planes (IARP) could conclude that airplanes cause flight crashes and deadly accidents. This would be 100% correct based on observations and tests. But it doesn’t tell you how often this happens. It just tells you that it does happen. Would you accordingly stop flying? What about that dream trip to that tropical destination you’ve been talking about? Would you ditch it?

In other words, even though there is a risk of developing cancer by eating processed or red meat, there are amounts to consider. The Ivory Embassy supports a varied diet with healthy choices. There is real over-consumption of meat in some parts of the world that needs to be toned down. But while you have green days a couple of times per week, enjoy that sausage (if that’s what you’re into).

The veganism

Oh boy, this is a heavy topic and requires a longer post, for sure. Let’s be clear; the Embassy is not against veganism in any shape or form. If you enjoy tofu and soya beans, keep doing so.

But let’s, for now, look at the evidence claiming that animal proteins, in general, are harmful and induce cancer growth.

First, a study on casein in rats is far from enough to generalize these observations to animal proteins in humans. Animal models don’t translate directly to humans. We can draw interesting conclusions based on animal studies. But guess what? To be able to extend that knowledge to humans, you need to do observe it in humans as well.

A second problem with the study is that it only looks at casein without other proteins or compounds in milk. These other reagents may play a role in the processing of casein as well as in the regulation of cell growth (we will discuss this in more detail in the future).

Finally, did you notice how the results observed on rats fed with casein are now generalized to “animal protein promotes the growth of cancer”? Sure, we can buy that casein is an animal protein. But that doesn’t mean that all animal proteins are casein. Do you see what we did there?

Before making bold claims, research needs to demonstrate the findings reliably. Today the Mediterranean food culture is considered to be one of the healthiest diets. Meat is often replaced by plant-based food, but fish, red meat, and white meat are still commonly added and enjoyed.

So, if you like meat and got the thumbs up from your doctor, go ahead! Eat with moderation.

Let’s continue with the recipe.

Step 4: Add Himalayan salt

Himalayan salt in a bowl.
Himalayan salt by PxHere.

Sprinkle this sucker all over the dish. Don’t be shy. You don’t want to miss any parts. Himalayan salt is extracted in salt mines in Pakistan, near the Himalayas. Compared to table salt and sea salt, it is barely processed, making it more “pure”.

According to some,  Himalayan salt brings tremendous health benefits to your everyday life. Himalayan salt is estimated to contain 84 minerals and trace elements according to those same sources. These are supposed to contribute to improved health. You could expect the following:

⊕ Reduced signs of aging

⊕ Stable pH balance

⊕ Increased libido

⊕ Improved vascular health

⊕ Improved lung function

⊕ Increased hydration

⊕ Improved sleeping qualities

⊕ Low blood pressure

⊕ Improved blood circulation

A decrease in muscle cramps

⊕ Detoxifies the body from heavy metals

Where’s that saltshaker, Ms? These claims are magic!

The reality check:

The problem with these claims is that evidence is lacking. There is no or little support that Himalayan salt specifically induces the above-mentioned benefits.

Many of these benefits can be attributed to sodium chloride in general. Symptoms like muscle cramps, bad blood circulation, low hydration, and tiredness are all symptoms you would expect from low blood sodium (hyponatremia). Even table salt could improve these symptoms.

It’s true that Himalayan salt contains higher levels of certain minerals, such as potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium resulting in the salt’s pinkish color. However, these increased levels of minerals are still way too low to account for any sort of health improvement. We’re talking about daily salt consumption that could be life-threatening at least.  

In general, it’s safe to say that scientific studies on the health effects of Himalayan salt are lacking. No proper mechanistic insight is provided into how salt gives health-improving properties supposedly. Instead, health bloggers often refer us to other non-scientific books or posts to confirm their claims.

Maybe you should take these claims with a pinch of… salt… if you know what we mean.

Step 5: Ferment everything

You can go ahead now and ferment the whole thing. Make the dish taste like your favorite sauerkraut. If you don’t know what food fermentation is, it is the incubation of veggies or other foods in bacteria. The bacteria consume whatever sugars are present in the food of your choice and produce the delicious sour taste that is the trademark of fermented foods.

With the increasing awareness of the health effects of the gut bacteria living in you, fermented foods are heavily promoted as a healthy alternative to add to your diet. There are several proposed benefits of adding fermented foods to your diet:

⊕ Avoid heart disease

Decrease risk for type 2 diabetes

⊕ Avoid obesity

⊕ Ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome

⊕ Ease diarrhea

⊕ Boost immune system

⊕ Lower anxiety

The list can be made longer, but it’s already impressive. Since you can easily buy or make your fermented food, you can start living a healthy life soon.   

The reality check:

We believe it. There can be many benefits to eating fermented foods. However, once again, the research is very thin regarding these foods. There is no clear evidence suggesting that fermentation will increase the health of an otherwise healthy individual. The results seem for now to be very preliminary.

Moreover, food fermentation is not devoid of its risks. Cases of botulism, an illness induced by the toxins of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, have been observed in Alaska. The reason for this can be blamed on the increased amount of sub-optimal fermentation of fish and seals.

Research suggests that fermented food creates carcinogenic by-products, and pickled foods are classified as possibly carcinogenic according to the World Health Organisation. Do you remember the classification of red meat mentioned above? Do you see how you could discredit mainstream health trends with the same classification approach?

Enjoy the dish!

With this, we take off our chef hats and wipe our hands. We have, together with you, creating a healthy dish, an impressive health bomb that can potentially add more health to your daily life (according to some health bloggers and gurus, at least) by combining the fads.

Why did we do this to you? Why did we sabotage certain superfoods and trends for you, you ask? It’s not just because we can or are trying to provoke.

We do it to show you how easy it is to create a demand based on nothing. No or little scientific support is needed. We also do it to demonstrate how everything can be “scientifically” argued for by presenting incomplete or misguided data.

Eating in today’s (western) world has taken on a semi-spiritual form. People pray in the churches of whole foods, the temples of clean eating, and the cathedrals of superfoods. And counterculture is never far away. The devil worshipers pray to the demons of unhealthy. Their holy scriptures manifest in cookbooks simply called “Lard” or “Meat”. Thou shalt cook a bird within a bird within a bird, Levi chapter 3, verse 18, the Book of the Turducken.

But we don’t mean to convert anyone; we are no missionaries. Still, the next time you buy chia seeds, goji berries or bacon, and a bucket of goose fat, you might want to stop for a second and think. After all, someone is selling you that stuff, and these people are not necessarily interested in your health or well-being. So please go ahead and eat what you like (within reason). That is not to say that different foodstuffs are not of different quality, and certainly, a balanced diet will make you feel better, but a little research and quite a bit of common sense go a long way here.

Keep striving to become healthy, but do it right. Use the research-wise, but remember that things are often not black and white as it is proposed to be by gurus.

Until next time, the Ivory Embassy wishes you the best imaginable 2018!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Fitoru Keto

    Nice blog! I really enjoyed reading this article. Thanks a lot for sharing!

    1. The Embassy

      That’s great to read. Thanks and hope to see you back!

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