Archive for January, 2011

New Portion Sizes Page!

January 23rd, 2011

We have dramatically improved our portion sizes page. You can the new page here. We now offer different views of common foods on small plates, large plates, and in a hand.

Here is an example of our hand photos:

Since everyone’s hands are different sizes, we also show one serving of these foods on small plates:

Our newest addition is a comparison of different portions of a particular food next to each other. It may be difficult to figure out how many cups of pasta are on your plate, but when it is compared to other sizes side-by-side, it becomes much simpler:

Hope you like it. Plenty more updates to come!


Do Clinical Trials Support The 2010 Dietary Guidelines’ Bad Fats Recommendation?

January 17th, 2011

MyPyramid: Steps to a...more confused you?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggest lowering our saturated fat intake even more. For the past 15 years, Americans have done a tremendous job of nearly achieving the current goal of no more than 10% of their calories coming from saturated fats. However, due to the less than satisfactory reduction in heart disease rates, the new guidelines suggest we should eat even less:

given that in the US population 11-12 percent of energy from SFA [saturated fatty acids] intake has remained unchanged for over 15 years, a reduction of this amount resulting in the goal of less than 7 percent energy from SFA should, if attained, have a significant public health impact.

For a 2,000 calorie diet, this means eating about 15 grams of saturated fat a day, a value that seems unattainable for the omnivore. The equivalent of a glass of milk and two 6 ounce pieces of chicken breast; or one 9 ounce piece of steak:

9 ounce ribeye

Given these rather strict limitations on saturated fat, it seems logical to assume that the clinical trials supporting this relationship are clear-cut and abundant. However, this is not the case.

Clinical Trials

Since the 1950s, there have been a relatively small number of large, long-term clinical trials examining the potential benefits of decreased saturated fats in the diet as a primary focus. All major trials (along with a study description and link to the original article) since 1966 are listed here. Some took place in mental institutions, some were not randomized, and some also involved major cocontaminant interventions such as weight loss, exercise, or increased fruit and vegetable consumption. Many show benefits to replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats, while others do not.

It is therefore very difficult to come up with a straight answer, and very simple to cherry-pick research that best fits your hypothesis. If there is a benefit to decreasing saturated fat intake, increasing polyunsaturated fats, or both, the evidence is mixed at best. The larger trials seem to suggest no major effect, while others do show significant benefits.

If we were to focus on the largest (i.e. > 100 subjects), randomized, most famous trials ever done lasting longer than 1 year, we are left with very few to assess that meet the following 2 criteria:

1) The only significant intervention involved a reduction in fat and saturated fat and an increase in polyunsaturated fats
2) They ask the question: does this diet reduce heart disease? (defined as heart attacks or death from heart disease)

Listed in reverse chronological order:

Women’s Health initiative (2006) – 48,835 women, 8 years, no significant difference between intervention and control.

Diet and Reinfarction trial (1989) – 2,033 men, 2 years, no significant difference between the groups given and not given fat and fiber advice. No significant differences in ischaemic heart disease between intervention and control (intervention was only advice in this trial)

Minnesota Coronary Survey* (1989) – 4,393 men and 4,664 women, double-blind, mean 1 year, no significant reduction in cardiovascular events or total deaths from the treatment diet

Finnish Mental Hospital (1972) – 12 years, physicians not blinded, significant decrease in coronary heart disease (CHD)death in men ( 5.7 deaths /1000 person-years vs 13 deaths /1000 person-years in the control. Non-significant decrease in CHD in women. (Not randomized, although included here because this is main experiment cited in support of diet-heart hypothesis)

Los Angeles Veteran’s Trial* (1969) –  846 subjects, up to 8 years, non significant difference in primary endpoints –  sudden cardiac death or myocardial infarction. When cerebral infarcts were added, it reached significance. More non-cardiac deaths in experimental group

Oslo Heart Study (1968) – 412 men, 5 year, significant decrease in CHD with intervention. When stratified by age, the results were significant only in subjects younger than 60.

Double blind

A full list of all the trials done supporting and refuting the saturated fat-heart-disease relationship, and a more in depth description of each can be found here . There are many others that did not meet the criteria I defined above.

Extra weight loss in high saturated fat groups adds complexity

To further complicate things, the diets that are typically characterized by high amounts of saturated fats seem to result in the most weight loss. When researchers compare a calorie unlimited, low-carb, high saturated fat diet to a traditional low calorie, low-fat diet, the low carb group generally — but not always — loses more weight. With few exceptions, their good cholesterol levels go up and their triglycerides go down. Despite having an unlimited calorie budget and often consuming 3x the amount recommended saturated fats, the subjects tend to lose more weight and rarely increase their bad cholesterol levels. ( For more on this and a list of all major clinical trials, see Low Carb Diets.)

Recommending such low levels of saturated fat, primarily found in meats, may have indirect consequences. Since saturated fats are mainly found in protein-dense animal products, decreasing saturated fat intake to very low levels  by definition encourages low-protein diets, which seem to be less effective for weight loss and satiety (feeling full). Given our seemingly unyielding obesity epidemic, this may not be the best approach. Such a drastic decrease in one nutrient of our diets can lead to a large increase in another. This is exactly what has happened the past 30 years with carbohydrates. Especially refined ones:

Gross et al. 2004. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

For a more in depth analysis of this relationship, see our page on saturated fats and heart disease in our new research library, Data Driven Dining.

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Dietary Research, Nutrition and Weight Loss, Policy

Announcing Data Driven Dining!

January 10th, 2011

We are proud to announce our newest innovation: Data Driven Dining, a nutrition research library providing an unbiased evaluation of common diet-related claims and theories, presenting the evidence both for and against a particular topic. Whether you are a health professional or just interested in eating right, Data Driven Dining can help you stay informed and achieve your goals.

In the right column, we have an RSS feed of current research from important nutrition journals, allowing you to stay up to date on the most current research.

So far, we have 3 topics available:

Each has 3 parts:

Main Points: A few statements summarizing the research.

Summary: A more in depth description and analysis of the evidence supporting and refuting the topic.

Bibliography: An ongoing, interactive list of all the important research for this topic. Each study is linked to the actual research paper, and is accompanied by a description of the study, the intervention, outcome, and general comments.

This is an on-going, constantly growing research library. If you think we missed a key article, or would like us to add a new topic, please email Larry:


New Feature: Personalized Nutrition Reports!

January 6th, 2011

Just in time for the new year, we have created personalized nutrition reports, giving you the chance to see how healthy your diet really is.

We compare each of your nutrients to the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for that component of your diet, to see whether you need to increase your fiber intake, decrease your saturated fat intake, and so on. In order to receive one, you must have filled out at least 5 days of food intake. Otherwise, the report will not be representative of your actual diet.

Here an example of what a full report would look like: Click here to download the full report.

If you’d like a report, just sign up for PhotoCalorie and start entering your foods!

Try PhotoCalorie for free: Sign up for free at, or download the free iPhone app

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