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Monday, March 18, 2013

No one thing

Among others, Gary Taubes has famously argued that calories don't count. Perhaps the more nuanced version is that the quality of calories, not the quantity, is what counts. Mr. Taubes and I have discussed this, and agreed to disagree. Leaving aside Newton and laws of thermodynamics, there is the Twinkie Diet on my side: evidence that weight can be lost when calories are restricted, no matter how truly dreadful the quality of those calories. To give Mr. Taubes his due, most people in the real world gain weight, not lose it, by eating Twinkies.

My view is that the quality and quantity of calories both count. The quality of calories is the quality of the fuel that runs our bodies. It counts for that reason. The quality of calories also influences the quantity. While it may be that "no one can eat just one" chip, everyone can eat just one apple. Quality and quantity interrelate.

Dr. Robert Lustig has argued that excess sugar, and specifically excess fructose, is the one thing most importantly wrong with the modern diet; he and I have also agreed to disagree. Dr. Lustig has invoked high-quality science to demonstrate how fructose can harm our livers by causing fat accumulation there, and thus damage our health, in virtually all the same ways as alcohol.

But a paper published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism demonstrates that under real-world conditions, a preferential focus on fructose may be unjustified. The investigators found no increase in liver fat over 10 weeks with sugar-supplemented diets, and no differential effects based on the kind of sugar. On the other hand, the study was funded by the Corn Refiners Association, and was likely developed with this very outcome in mind.

But even if this study is suspect, there are other reasons to doubt that fructose is our one true cause for worry. A recent study shows an association between sugar-free soda intake and diabetes. This may be a direct effect of sugar substitutes, or more likely because people drinking intensely sweet sodas of any variety tend to consume a diet higher in sugar overall. But at a minimum, the association is a precautionary tale about benefits to be expected from replacing the sugar in soft drinks.

More importantly, if Dr. Lustig is right, the much-revered T. Colin Campbell, who has implicated animal protein in our health ills, must be wrong. Our trouble can't be all about fruit sugar if it's all about animal protein, and vice versa.

If Dr. Campbell is right, then not only Dr. Atkins and Dr. Agatston, but also Loren Cordain, a respected paleoanthropologist emphasizing the prominent place of meat in our native diets, have to be wrong. If Cordain and others are right, then not only Campbell, but Barnard and Esselstyn and the other ardent proponents of veganism are wrong.

If the most ardent proponents of a vegan diet are right, the proponents of the Mediterranean diet must be wrong.

And on it goes. The Center for Science in the Public Interest warns that excess dietary sodium may kill as many as 150,000 of us each year. A sophisticated analysis, based on three distinct computer modeling approaches, just published in the journal Hypertension, indicates that meaningful reductions in average intake of dietary sodium in the U.S. could save between 280,000 and 500,000 lives over the next decade. This suggests that CSPI's argument may be slightly exaggerated, but is directionally correct. But if sodium is a major source of harm, then arguments that our only worry is meat, or fructose, or eggs, or carbs, or aspartame are all wrong.

I think there is a better explanation for all of this, and it's one we've heard before, courtesy of the poet John Godfrey Saxe. Saxe wrote the most famous version of the parable "The Blind Men and the Elephant," in which each of six blind men seeking knowledge of the beast take hold of a different part, from tail to ear, and reach a distinct conclusion. Saxe wrote that "each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong."

All were in the wrong not about the part, but about the sum of the parts. And so, too, for diet and health. I believe all of my expert colleagues have something worthwhile to contribute to our understanding. Where they err, in my opinion, is thinking that any one part of this story is the whole story.

There is no question that dietary patterns at odds with the fundamentals of what we know about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens are a major cause of the most egregious injuries imposed on modern public health. There are many minor deficiencies and major excesses contributing to the adversities of our dietary intake.

But no one thing is wrong with the prevailing American diet, and no one-nutrient-at-a-time remedy will right it any more than a single part represents the whole elephant in the room. We need to see that elephant, and develop a better recipe.

David L. Katz, MD, FACP, MPH, FACPM, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care. He is a board certified specialist in both Internal Medicine, and Preventive Medicine/Public Health, and Associate Professor (adjunct) in Public Health Practice at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is the Director and founder (1998) of Yale University's Prevention Research Center; Director and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital (2000) in Derby, Conn.; founder and president of the non-profit Turn the Tide Foundation; and formerly the Director of Medical Studies in Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine for eight years. This post originally appeared on his blog at The Huffington Post.

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Blog log

Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:

Albert Fuchs, MD
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.

And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.

Auscultation
Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Zackary Berger
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.

Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Richmond, Va., with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).

db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.

DrDialogue
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.

Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.

Everything Health
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.

FutureDocs
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.

Glass Hospital
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.

Gut Check
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.

I'm dok
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.

Informatics Professor
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.

David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.

Just Oncology
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.

KevinMD
Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.

MD Whistleblower
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.

Medical Lessons
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.

Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.

More Musings
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).

Prescriptions
David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.

Reflections of a Grady Doctor
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.

The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.

Technology in (Medical) Education
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.

Peter A. Lipson, MD
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.

Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.

World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.

Other blogs of note:

American Journal of Medicine
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.

Clinical Correlations
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.

Interact MD
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.

PLoS Blog
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.

White Coat Rants
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.

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