Category: Food science

Is coconut oil healthy or just a fad? We check with Doctor Oz.

Is coconut oil healthy or just a fad? We check with Doctor Oz.

Recently we were discussing approaches to weight loss with a group of friends in Wilton, and one pointed out that Dr Oz had said that coconut oil was good for weight loss. This seemed surprising since it is an oil made of saturated fats, so we looked into it. You can buy coconut oil  almost everywhere now and from quacks like Dr Mercola.

Dr Oz did indeed endorse coconut oil on a recent show, claiming that unspecified “recent research” said it was good for weight loss, skin conditions and treating ulcers. He didn’t claim it would walk your dog or fold your laundry, but that might be in the next segment.

Dr Oz trained as a medical doctor, and some of his straightforward medical advice can be pretty helpful, but he increasingly has moved to endorse alternative medicine, pseudo-science and even faith healing. Many scientists and physicians feel he has gone completely “over to the dark side,” eschewing science-based medicine for a lot of hokum.

Coconut oil may very well make a good skin treatment, as you often find it in suntan lotions and the like. But there really isn’t much peer-reviewed research to support Oz’s assertions. It has been linked to impaired memory performance in rats. But there are no studies linking coconut oil to the stomach ulcer bacteria h pylori. There are, however, a number of sites hawking coconut oil that make these claims, though.

There is one preliminary study on 20 obese Malaysian males that showed some reduction in waist circumference and another study showing increasing obesity upon ingestion of coconut oil and other saturated fats. Finally there is a study among Filipino women showing that coconut oil improved the lipid profile by increasing HDL (good cholesterol).

However, these are small and preliminary, and no definitive conclusions have been reached. On the web site sharecare.com, the Mt Sinai Medical Center answers a query about coconut oil, suggesting it is unlikely to be useful.

The bottom line, according to the Mayo Clinic and others is this: People on coconut oil diets showed higher arterial fat after just one meal, it can increase cholesterol and, if it is not reducing your caloric intake, coconut oil can actually lead to weight gain.

And the Mayo Clinic web site points out

Although eating coconut oil in moderation for a short-term diet probably won’t harm your health, it may not help you lose weight. And keep in mind that coconut oil actually has more saturated fat than do butter and lard. For successful, long-term weight loss, stick to the basics — an overall healthy-eating plan and exercise.

There are some articles on Oz’s web site but mostly by blog contributors, many with only Naturopath training (which is not science based medicine) and even they come back to these same preliminary studies. There is also one by a board certified dermatologist touting essentially the same studies.

The only places strongly touting coconut oil are quack doctor Joe Mercola’s site and the even more suspect site at the Weston A Price Foundation. The paper Mercola appears to be referring to is also the 2009 Brazilian study where 2 groups of volunteers were fed either soybean oil or coconut oil over 12 weeks and instructed to walk 50 minutes a day and follow an otherwise balanced low calorie diet. Both groups lost weight, but HDL (good) cholesterol was higher in the coconut oil group.

In conclusion, there is a bit of preliminary evidence for some benefits,  but since it seems counter-intuitive that eating a high saturated fat diet can help you lose weight, it is probably better to follow the advice of the established experts such as WebMD and the American Heart Association who recommend against it.

 

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Connecticut proposes bill to protect charlatans

Connecticut proposes bill to protect charlatans

Connecticut State representative Charles Ferraro has introduced a bill (HB 5759) entitled “AN ACT ESTABLISHING A CONNECTICUT HEALTH FREEDOM AND ACCESS ACT.” In essence, this bill is designed to protect alternative medicine practitioners from being prosecuted for practicing without a license.

Here’s the entire bill:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

That the general statutes be amended to permit a health care provider who is not licensed, certified or registered by the state to provide health care services in the state, provided (1) such provider does not perform surgery, set fractures, perform any other procedure on any person that punctures or harmfully invades the skin, prescribe or administer x-rays, prescribe or administer drugs, devices or controlled substances for which a prescription by a licensed health care provider is required, perform chiropractic adjustment of the articulations of joints or the spine or hold out himself or herself as licensed, certified or registered by the state, and (2) such provider makes certain disclosures regarding his or her unlicensed, uncertified or unregistered status to anyone seeking his or her health care services.

Statement of Purpose:

To provide the public access to practitioners providing health care services with appropriate consumer protections.

In other words, an unlicensed health care provided can practice his quackery without fear of prosecution despite the fact that none of their practices are supported by any science.

If you doubt the bill’s intent, look at statements by NationalHealthFreedom.org. They describe this as

a bill that protects access to the thousands of traditional, complementary and alternative health care practitioners (such as homeopaths, herbalists, energy healers, and more) who are providing great services to health seekers in Connecticut.

Now let us remember that

Alternative medicine is made of up things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work. If they worked, we would call them medicine.

This bill does nothing but exempt quacks scamming the public with pseudo-science from being prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license. These charlatans do a great deal of damage by persuading people that they can actually provide science-based medicine when they are actually talking utter nonsense and taking money from the gullible.

The fact that millions of people seek out care from alternative health providers is no evidence that any such treatments actually work. In fact, there is no such evidence. Homeopaths, naturopaths, aroma therapists, herbalists, energy healers and crystal wavers are selling arm waving nonsense for which no scientific studies exists. This also applies to acupuncturists, who may or may not be covered by this outrageously stupid bill. There is also no evidence that acupuncture works.

It should be worth noting that the Organic Consumers Association, an industry funded lobbying group for organic food providers, supports this bill, which demeans both the bill and the lobbying group.

If you live in Connecticut, contact your legislators and tell them  that this “safe harbor” bill protects dangerous quacks from being held responsible for their nonsensical practices. Alternative medicine is bunk.

 

Boulder’s gullible foodies praised by NY Times

Boulder’s gullible foodies praised by NY Times

In Saturday’s NY Times, Stephanie Strom, no stranger to pseudo-science, wrote an article praising how friendly Boulder, CO was to development of new food products “where new companies are challenging the old guard in the food business.”

The trouble is every single company she mentioned is peddling products based on scaring into buying them. That’s right, all of these companies are peddling bullsh*t.

Quinn Snacks

Starting with Quinn Snacks, whose goal was “cleaning up food,” we find that their plan is no GMOS (um, there is no such thing as GMO popcorn)  combined with English and science illiteracy:

“we’ll take  real butter over carbonyl group (=C=O) any day of the week.”

Grammatically, it’s either “a carbonyl group” or “carbonyl groups.” Chemically, you should write a carbonyl group as >C=O to show two different bonds coming off the C. But come on, ninnies, butter flavoring is usually diacetyl

CH3-(C=O)-(C=O)-CH3

which has TWO carbonyl groups, and occurs naturally as a major flavor component in butter. So real butter contains diacetyl and has two carbonyl groups. They also claim that all their ingredients are pronounceable, which, of course, is really reassuring if you are functionally as well as chemically illiterate.

And Quinn perpetuates the Big Lie, that “GMOs” are an ingredient rather than a process. GMO crops are the most heavily tested class of foods in the world and not a single problem has ever been found in over 20 years of use.

Of course Quinn’s foods are “organic,” which is the triumph of PR over science. There is simply no evidence that organic crops, using pre-scientific rules are any healthier or more nutritious than conventional crops. Organic crops have a yield that Is 50-80% of conventionally crops, deplete the soil, and have a greater carbon footprint. And yes, they spray pesticides on organic crops, too. Just different ones.

Purely Elizabeth

Purely Elizabeth  sells “ancient grain granolas,” at $6.99 for 12 oz (probably about two servings) which is fully buzz-word compliant: gluten free, non-GMO, vegan, organic and sweetened with “coconut sugar,” which they claim erroneously to be low glycemic, and baked with the ever popular foodie coconut oil, which has no discernible benefits except profitability. They also claim to provide support to organic, anti-GMO organizations like Slow Food USA and the Rodale Institute, whose entire reason for being is to promote organic farming.

Coconut sugar and palm sugar are the same thing, and are at least 70% sucrose, with the rest being glucose and fructose. While the Phillippine Department of Agriculture claims to have measured the  glycemic index for coconut sugar at 35, others have measured it at 58, close to that for sugar.  Chris Gunnars explains his skepticism of these measurements.

The glycemic index is a measure of glucose content, or more accurately how available the glucose is, but while this was formerly of interest to diabetics, current thinking according to the American Diabetes Association is that total calorie count is more important, and obviously, the calorie count for sugar is the same whether derived from cane, beets, or palms.

Madhava Sweeteners sells “organic sweeteners,” such as the ridiculous coconut sugar just mentioned, and organic honey, which is more or less a sweet illusion according to Scientific American. Incidentally, honey, too, is just sugar (sucrose) but the bees secrete invertase which breaks the sugar up into its two smaller sugar components: glucose and sucrose. It is not a special sweetener:  it’s sugar.

You can make similar criticisms of the bogosity of other mentioned companies like Made in Nature who make organic fruit and grain snacks, and Good Karma Foods, whose products but seem to be “flax milk” and yogurt made from flax seed, and of course are “non-GMO,” gluten free, non-dairy and allergen free.

Gluten free, of course, is only of concern to the approximately 1% of the population that suffers from celiac disease. Evidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity is minimal, and going “gluten-free” is a lifestyle choice, not treatment of a medical issue.

Birch Benders

Finally we come to Birch Benders, who makes a line of pancake mixes. We’ve never understood the appeal of pancake mixes, since pancakes recipes only contain about 6 ingredients you can stir together in less than a minute, but we had to try theirs, because they claim to be “just like grandma’s.” Well, we have our grandmother’s recipe for buttermilk pancakes and thought we’d compare ours against theirs. This recipe has been in the family for probably 100 years, and is just:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • buttermilk (about 2 cups)

You just stir the ingredients up (this really takes only a minute) and bake them on a griddle or frypan at medium heat, turn once and serve.

Birch Benders has a classic pancake mix as well as a gluten free version, both are, of course, organic. They also  make a buttermilk pancake mix, but only the traditional one is available in stores in our area.

My grandmother never heard of either “organic” or “gluten free,” of course. But there are only 2 ingredients in making their pancakes:  ¾ cup of pancake mix and 2/3 cup of water.  Um…really?

Well of course, with those proportions, the batter came out the thickness of milk, and cooked into something thin and ridiculous that stuck to the pan.

We mixed in about 3 more Tb of flour to make a decently thick batter and tried to make comparable pancakes. Well they were about the same size as ours, but not as puffy and they had no taste except sweet, and in fact they were too sweet. There was no buttermilk or wheat flavor at all. They were actually pretty awful.

 

Their pancake mix is made from “organic evaporated cane juice,” which is just a cryptonym for sugar, organic wheat flour, baking powder, non-GMO cornstarch, organic potato starch and organic cassava starch. We paid $4.99 for a 16 oz package at Caraluzzi’s in Georgetown, CT. But never again.

The point of this rant is that the New York Times really needs to point out that these expensive little startup companies that form a coven in Boulder offer nothing new but unscientific malarkey. Claims like “organic,” “gluten free” and “GMO free” attempt to scare you into buying into their nonsense. And some of them aren’t even very good.

 

Veal Zurich style: Zurig’schnetzlets

Veal Zurich style: Zurig’schnetzlets

Veal Zurich Style, or Veal Swiss Style is usually referred to on Zurich menus as Zurig’schnetzletts. It is spelled in dozens of ways and is one of the most popular dishes on Zurich menus. It’s a simple, creamy veal dish you can make in half an hour, while your rosti are cooking. Rosti are essentially Swiss hash browns, and are very easy to make. We’ll start them first.

Rosti

  • 2 or more medium potatoes
  • 2 Tb butter
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Shred the potatoes using a food processor shredding disk or the coarse side of a grater. If they are very moist, dry them a bit on a paper towel.
  2. Melt the butter in a cast iron frying pan and press the shredded potatoes down. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes on each side. You want them to be crispy on the outside and the interior of the potato cake cooked through.
  3. Keep the rosti warm in the pan until the veal is done. Then lift out the entire cake and serve it on a plate, cutting it into segments.

rosti-in-pan

Zurig’schnetzlets

  • 1 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 Tb butter
  • ½ lb veal cutlets
  • 2 green onions, white part only, chopped
  • 10-12 oz beef or chicken broth (low salt). We used our own homemade beef stock
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  1. Melt half the butter, and sauté the mushrooms until they give up their water and begin to brown. Remove to bowl.
  2. Pound the veal and cut into small pieces
  3. Saute the veal, a few pieces at a time in the butter. Add the chopped onions to the last batch.
  4. Remove the veal to a bowl and add the wine and stock. Since you are boiling it down, it is important to use low salt stock or the salt will concentrate and the dish will be too salty. Add any liquid from the meat and mushrooms.
  1. Boil down the wine and stock to about ¼ cup, being careful not to let I burn.
  2. Add the cream and the veal and heat through.
  3. Put the veal mixture in a serving bowl and top with the sour cream. Stir it in at the table as one last flourish before serving.

Serve with the rosti.

rosti

Farmer wants subsidy for keeping his pricey chickens outdoors

Farmer wants subsidy for keeping his pricey chickens outdoors

In the article National Burden in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Wyatt Williams writes of Georgia farmer Will Harris’s experience with bald eagles attacking his chickens. It is against the law (with severe penalties) to kill a bald eagle, and you even need a permit to scare one away with a noise maker.

Soon after Harris began raising meat chickens he began to see bald eagles roosting in nearby trees, looking for a tasty luncheon. And sure enough, as they became braver, they did attack his chickens, the article claims “thousands of his chickens.” This could be true, because the scale of Harris’s White Oak Pastures farm generates millions of dollars of revenue, according to the article.

Now it turns out that there is a USDA program, the Livestock Indemnity Program that essentially reimburses farmers for animals killed by predators. The rate of reimbursement depends on the animal and the region, and they subtract a percentage for normal livestock deaths. In Georgia, the normal chicken death rate is 4%, assuming the chickens are housed in barns. But in Harris’s case, they estimated that since the chickens were pastured outdoors, the normal death rate would be 40%. Much of the article deals with Harris’s attempts to negotiate a more reasonable death rate. They finally settled on 18%.

Well, one might ask, if the eagles are chomping on the poultry in such numbers, why in the world aren’t they using barns to raise the chickens in? (Incidentally, all meat chickens are raised “cage free.”) The disappointing answer in the article is that would

“snip the last strings connecting them to nature.”

Of course, chickens have been raised outdoors for centuries, but according to Hillmire, large scale pasturing of chickens is a “new management practice,” and “pastured poultry growers face steep price competition with the conventional industry and must rely on niche marketing.”  She also notes that

The top issue for pastured poultry growers was carnivore predation of birds, with 44% of growers commenting on this in a question regarding challenges

The end result, of course, is that these chickens are much more expensive.  A package of 2.5 lbs of bone-in pastured chicken breasts runs $18.13, and a whole medium chicken $15.49 and a whole large chicken $20.99. Oh, and shipping is $39.95. They are also available, of course, at Whole Foods, always willing provide overpriced products.

And how do they taste? Well, they “recommend cooking in a manner consistent with classical and rustic cooking techniques, such as slow roasting or braising.” In other words, they may otherwise be tough.

Harris’ chickens are pastured, organic, cage-free, hormone-free, non-GMO and fully buzz-word compliant. If you doubt this, you can admire the beautifully written PR claims on their web site. They make no health or nutrition claims, however. And hormones are never given to chickens anyway: it is illegal.

What this boils down to is that Harris is asking the USDA (taxpayers) to subsidize his risky outdoor pasturing of chickens, for which he then charges premium prices, because people believe (without evidence) that they are somehow better.  In fact, as Simmons explains pasturing uses far more land, and is more harmful to chickens, with death rates estimated at 13%.

This is simply the organic myth writ large. Organic isn’t better, just more expensive.

 

For Trump: Science is hard

For Trump: Science is hard

According to the Onion, a National Science Foundation Symposium concluded that Science is Hard. It really isn’t any harder than governing or public speaking or performing arts. Each has their own vocabulary and courses of study. But somehow, the general public thinks it is hard.

This has been borne out for years by our Congress, where only two members have degrees in any sort of science.  So it is not surprising that the Congress makes poorly informed decisions or assertions, like Senator Imhofe, who brandished a snowball in winter to assert that global warming is not real. Even worse, he cited biblical references to support his view, a book in which many people find comfort, but which was written by bronze age goatherds and unlikely to cover climate change.

So it is not surprising that incoming President Trump has dubbed climate change a “Chinese hoax.” To the contrary, Beijing is actively participating in policies to reduce carbon emissions, as are most countries.

You cannot expect a President to be an expert in all fields of endeavor, but you can expect him to appoint advisors who are experts in these fields, and it is here that the 28 appointments Mr Trump has made (out of about 660 that require Congressional approval) fail to support or understand science.  As we noted earlier, science is not a branch of politics, where many views may seem to be correct. Science is the result of rigorous experimentation, study and peer-review, and far less debatable than politics is. Or, to quote NGT, “Science is true, whether or not you believe  in it.”

In this context, it is deeply disappointing that Scott Pruitt, the nominee to head the EPA told Congress that “the extent of [human] impact [on climate change] is subject to continuing debate.”  In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2013 that more than half of the climate warming from 1951 to 2010 was due to human activity. And it was just reported that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year.  This is no longer subject to debate, and government administrators cannot put off vigorous action if we expect our children and grandchildren to survive.

Likewise, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson has expressed reservations on climate change and does not view it as an imminent national security threat.

The most horrifying recent hearing was for billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. DeVos has been a forceful advocate for charter schools, even though studies have shown that they are not particularly effective, especially in Michigan where DeVos has spent millions promoting them. From a science point of view, it is equally disturbing that Ms DeVos believes that the Earth is only 6000 years old. Her hearings have also shown that she knows nothing about education, either.

Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor, has just been nominated as Secretary of Agriculture. He once led a prayer ceremony in front of the Capitol, asking God to be forgive Georgians for being wasteful with water. According to the barely credible Environmental Working Group, as a former fertilizer salesman, Perdue seems less than likely to understand the water pollution problems uncontrolled fertilizer runoff can cause. The Agriculture Department has been involved in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and while we do not know Perdue’s positions, his  boss has expressed significant skepticism on this issue. Perhaps more comforting is that as governor, Perdue established a seed capital fund, focused on the life sciences industry, and allocated $30 to$40 million towards strengthening biotech research at the state’s universities.

And, of course, Rick Perry, who is slated to take over the Energy Department, is famous for wanting to close it, once he remembered it’s name. Joking aside, though, in Congressional hearings, he was completely unwilling to admit that climate change poses a global crisis.

Every incoming President provides a mixture of hope and skepticism to the public, and our skepticism on his approach to science is substantial.

Gary Taubes says sugar is poison

Gary Taubes says sugar is poison

Science writer Gary Taubes has been writing columns everywhere promoting his new book The Case Against Sugar. He has written columns in The Guardian, and  The New York TImes among other places, and has been reviewed somewhat critically in The Guardian, Food Insight and The Atlantic.

Taubes’ central argument is that calories from sugar are not the only reason for obesity, but argues that sugar itself is uniquely toxic.

Taubes: “If the research community had been doing its job and not assuming since the 1920s that a calorie is a calorie, perhaps we would have found such evidence long ago.”

In a nutshell, the flaw in his argument is revealed in the above statement in the Times article. There must be more to sugar’s causing obesity than just calories, but researchers haven’t been doing their job!

And, in fact, despite Taubes’ persuasive writing, this is most of his argument. He cites no research in his articles (I have not read his actual book) or even mentions researchers who agree with him.

His thesis echoes that of Dr Robert Lustig, who makes much the same arguments in his book Fat Chance, and in the movie Fed Up but both Lustig’s and Taubes’ similar ideas have been debunked in articles, such as this one in Science Based Medicine. And Food Insight called this “blind fealty to correlation as causation.” Scientific American pointed out the fallacies in this argument in 2013.

In fact, while obesity continues to increase, sugar intake in the US actually decreased from 1999-2008, mainly because of decreased consumption of sugary soft drinks.

Taubes’ other somewhat distressing argument is that the sugar industry has been influencing research outcomes for years by sponsoring research. This suggests that not only that scientists are unethical but that the journal peer-review process itself is corrupt, and that is hard to swallow. The idea that research funding influences outcomes had been thoroughly debunked in this article by van Eenenaam, who notes that such corrupt research is a sure path to a short academic career.

He cites this PLoS One paper which reviews papers for their findings, correlating them with the source of their support. The authors suggested that papers with no declared “conflict of interest” are more likely(83%) to find that sugar sweetened beverages could be a risk for weight gain, but for those “disclosing some financial conflict of interest” 83% found that there was no such correlation.

The trouble with that paper is that there are only a few such studies: there were only 12 in the first category and 6 in the second category, and only 10/12 and 5/6 supported the author’s conclusions.

There are other reviews of sugar consumption that we need to consider. For example, Weed et al. studied reviews of health outcomes from sugar sweetene beverage (SSB) consumption, and rated the review quality using the AMSTAR review rating scheme, and found that most of them received moderately low quality scores, regardless of the conclusions of the paper. This would mean that the conclusions of these reviews are probably not entirely convincing, and basing Taubes’ sugar conspiracy theory on such weak data is not fully substantiated.

Moreover, this recent paper by Keller et al. reviews papers on sugar sweetened beverage consumption among children and adolescents, reporting that 9 reviews found a correlation between obesity and SSB consumption, while 4 did not. But that the quality scores of the reviews was low to moderate and that the two papers with highest quality scores reported discrepant (inconclusive) results.

The most important conclusion we can draw from reading Taubes’ many opinion pieces is we eat too much sugar, but that studies so far have not shown that sugar is more to blame than calories from any other source. No such research seems yet to exist.

Is Orgreenic Cookware a scam?

Is Orgreenic Cookware a scam?

If you are like us, you have been bombarded with ads for Orgreenic Cookware: we sometimes receive 4 or more E-mails a day from them. In addition, their ads are embedded in lots of web sites we visit. Other people report seeing their infomercials any number of times.

We set out to compare the Orgreenic pan with the 10” All Clad pan we bought at Williams-Sonoma in Westport.

If you try and get any information on these products, you discover that they have bombed the web with fake or almost fake review sites, all of which have very positive things to say about their cookware. There are some critical comments at Complaintsboard and at Chowhound.

These products are made to be non-stick without a Teflon coating, which many people prefer to steer away from. So their ads emphasize that you can cook “without oil, butter or grease.”

Based on the negative comments on the latter two web sites, we decided not to order directly from the company (Ozeri.com makes these pans). Too many people had trouble with credit card overcharges, and having an entire set shipped to them instead of the single trial pan. Further while the offer of the day is two pans for $19.99, you have to pay shipping on the second one, as well as on any “free offer” they also include.

If you go to their web site, you will find that they want your credit card number before they tell you what they are charging you for: never a good sign.

Instead, we opted to order the pan from Amazon. It is actually shipped from a company called As Seen on TV Guys (also called Telebrands Inc.). We paid $26.99, with no tax or shipping charges, and there were no hidden free offers. The pan arrived in two days.

Despite the picture on the Amazon web site, the pan came without any box or recipes, wrapped in bubble wrap and stuffed into a Tyvek Priority Mail envelope. Despite the indestructibility claims of the infomercial, there was a small dent and chip in the pan when it arrived. And the accompanying materials indicated that they would replace it but would charge a $7.95 shipping charge, which seemed rather unreasonable. Why should we pay for their mistake?

A small circular insert paper in the pan said that the pan should be seasoned before use. We’ve never had to season a pan before: a simple but annoying procedure. You are to pour a film of oil in the bottom of the pan, coat the sides and heat the oil until it begins to smoke. Then pour it out and let the pan cool. Wipe out the excess oil. You are supposed to repeat this twice yearly.

beaded-dropletsPouring a film of oil into this pan is actually quite difficult, because the ceramic surface is non-porous, and the oil tends to bead up instead of covering the pan smoothly. To make sure, we washed the pan with soap and water before trying again.

We then poured in enough oil to cover the bottom and heated it until it began to smoke. This can make quite a smell in the house, and you should open the windows or make sure your exhaust fan is running.

Now, when you season a cast-iron pan, you are really making a thin polymeric layer on top of the porous iron. In the case of these ceramic-coated pans it is not clear why we are doing this.

Further, you are supposed to hand wash the pan rather than put it in the dishwasher, which might spoil the seasoning. This was an annoying discovery, to say the least and certainly would keep us from buying more of them.

all-clad-vs-ogreenicWe weighed the pan, which is probably supposed to have a 9” diameter (but is unlabeled). It weighed in at 23 oz. By contrast our only slightly larger All Clad 10” pan weighed 37 oz. So the Orgreenic pan is a substantial light weight by comparison.

Now for the cooking

We first tried to duplicate the fried egg they show in the infomercial. We warmed the cool pan over medium-low heat, and added one egg. Once it began to solidify, we tried to see if it would “slide around.” While it didn’t, it was easily lifted and moved with a spatula: the egg did not stick at all.

However, as in the video, the top of the “fried” egg is essentially uncooked. We tried covering the egg with a lid, but without any steam or grease it didn’t really cook. We ended up flipping the egg and flipping it back again after half a minute. At this point some of the white stuck to the pan in a streak, but you could wipe it off when the pan cooled.

Now, an egg cooked without fat is essentially a baked egg, and it really doesn’t have a lot of flavor. In fact, the egg was rather tough, and when we flipped it over, we saw why: it had formed a fairly hard coating underneath. It wasn’t overcooked, just hard and not all the tasty.

 

baconWe also tried cooking a couple of strips of bacon, as one of the Chowhound comments remarked that the bacon stained the pan. We had no trouble: it cooked fine, and all the bacon debris was easily removed with a little soap and water.

The whole idea of cooking without any oil or grease is bizarre on the face of it. Flavors are carried in the fat. So, no matter how you use this pan, it is just a non-stick pan you can use whenever you need something that will fry or sauté something and clean up fairly easily.

The pans are fairly cheaply made compared to our All Clad pan (which is about $77) and it looks like it isn’t very hard to nick the coating, so it isn’t clear what the advantage actually is.

The Orgreenic telephone/web sales is very close to a scam according lots of commenters, but the pan from Amazon did arrive and was indeed non-stick. We really aren’t interested in pans we have to season every few months, though, nor ones you shouldn’t put in the dishwasher.

 

 

The best 2016 science and pseudo-science stories

The best 2016 science and pseudo-science stories

Science

Gravitational Waves. One of the most striking scientific discoveries of 2016 was the observation of gravitational waves. Predicted by Einstein’s theories 100 years ago, ripples in space-time were finally observed last year by physicists at the  Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), using instruments at Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana. They announced that they had indeed observed this waves as two black holes spiraled into each other 1.3 billion light years away. The Advanced LIGO systems were completed only a week or so before this black hole collision took place, but they represent a long term investment by the National Science Foundation, and design work done by nearly 1000 scientists. Funding was also provided by Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC) and Australia (Australian Research Council).

Ebola outbreak over. The WHO declared that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is at an end and that all known chains of transmissions have been stopped. Flare-ups may still occur and monitoring will continue. In addition, a promising Ebola vaccine has been reported in The Lancet.

Citrus greening. Citrus greening disease attacks orange trees, causing green, inedible fruit, and is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. It is spreading widely in Florida as well as in Texas  and even California and research into controlling it is in high gear. Essentially, you have to find or create trees immune to the disease, and that is what has been done at the University of Florida. Researchers report having bred a “mother tree” with greening resistance, and look forward to being able to provide replacement trees that are more or less immune. This is, of course, a long term and expensive solution, but at least some approach has been “fruitful.”

CRISPR. The gene editing technology CRISPR came into its own in 2016. This technique allows scientists to edit genes without inserting foreign material, using the Cas9 enzyme. Scientists Jennifer Doudna at UC Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umeå University in Sweden found that they could exploit the Cas9 protein by feeding it a pattern of RNA. The Cas9 would then seek out this pattern and snip out that pattern in any genome it was presented with. Related work showing that this could be done in mice was published about the same time by Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute.  You can read a very good explanation of CRISPR/Cas9 by Brad Plumer and Javier Zarracina here. This simple, and relatively cheap technique can be used to create new foods, treat diseases. This follow-on article suggests some of the further advances that CRISPR might be used for, including cancer and Alzheimer’s treatments.

Of course, which of the two groups (Berkeley and Broad Institute) have the patent rights to CRISPR is now the subject of an interesting court case, explained here by C&E News.

Homeopathic medicines. Homeopathic “medicines” are usually substances diluted so far that no active components remain. The FTC issued a new Enforcement Policy on Marketing Claims for Homeopathic Drugs.  Essentially, companies must have actual scientific evidence of their efficacy for any health-related claims they make.

Pseudo-Science

How do we do science? Science is the result of a collection of measurable observation under careful control, and usually represents many observations by many research groups. Science is different from politics, where various philosophies can lead to different conclusions. Science is not a set of beliefs, it is a system of careful studies, reviewed by others and published in major technical journals. The results of scientific studies may result in corrections over time: science is inherently self-correcting, but it is not dependent on scientist’s personal political or moral outlooks.

Further, the idea that science can be suspect because of who funds it reveals considerable naivete about how research grants are obtained and how research is actually done. Professor Allison van Eeenenaam of UC Davis Animal Science explains this very well in this excellent article.

Vaccines: Andrew Wakefield was a gastroenterologist who published a fraudulent paper in 1998 claiming that the MMR vaccine could cause autism. This paper has been refuted many times (and retracted) by careful studies and Wakefield was barred from medical practice. Nonetheless the rumors caused by his crackpot paper, has done considerable damage, as too many people believed the rumors that vaccines were somehow dangerous. In fact, it was demonstrated that Wakefield’s paper was an elaborate fraud, designed to make money.  The CDC firmly notes that all research has shown that vaccines do not cause autism, citing the supporting research.

Nonetheless, there are pockets of non-vaccinating families, often living near each other which represent a serious health hazard.  Organizations of non-vaccinating parents have formed, and even have a Facebook group!  Clusters on such parents are sure to spread disease and it is not unreasonable to ask your child’s friend’s parents if their child is vaccinated before allowing them to play with your child.

This is essentially science denial based parenting and it has been difficult to break through, although more and more pediatricians are refusing to treat children whose parents refuse to vaccinate them.

This non-vaccination of children is supported by pseudo-science based practitioners such as naturopaths, who should know better. And this has led to Wakefield making a propaganda film called VAXXED, which purports to give some support to this practice. The film has received scathing reviews, notably by Dr Paul Offit , co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, and by the Washington Post.  Nonetheless, some stars in the entertainment industry still claim to these disproven claims.

But to bring us up to date, we just learned of an article by an actual doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, Daniel Neides, who seems to have jumped onto the pseudo-science bandwagon and attempts to connect vaccines and autism, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Today, the Cleveland Clinic apologized for Neides column and promises discipline. However, the column is still there spreading misinformation. We would suggest termination of Neides at once,

But not to make you think the Neides is along in this crackpottery, the ever-reliable lunatic Mark Hyman (MD?)  has said much the same things, and also claims staff privileges at the Cleveland Clinic.

Organic foods

Organic foods are spreading through supermarkets like tribbles. They are a high-profit class of foods, marked up by both the farmers, and the grocers, so they have every reason to expand their availability. Some stores tart up their organic aisles with special flooring to make you think of “luxury.” But “organic” is a marketing term, as was explained by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman when the National Organic Program was announced. It does not say anything about food safety, nutrition or quality. It is  a series of agricultural practices based primarily on prescientific ideas about farming.  Organic trade groups continue to trumpet the lie that organic crops are “free of pesticides,” when the USDA allows dozens of pesticides to be used on organic crops.

And in a 2009 review by Dangour, et. el., they found no nutritional differences between organic and conventional crops. A similar study in 2012 by Smith-Spangler found much the same thing. And as far as pesticide residues go, Bruce Ames seminal paper shows that the pesticides manufactured by the plants themselves are 10,000 times higher in concentration than any agricultural pesticide residues, and thus these residues are more or less irrelevant.

Organic crops also have significantly lower yields, which is part of the reason they cost more. Typically organic crops yield 60-80% as much per acre as do conventional crops. They also are less environmentally friendly.  Organic is not in any way “better.” In fact, writing in Forbes, Henry Miller calls it a “colossal hoax.”

GMO Crops

Genetically modified crops have been in use in many countries for nearly 20 years now, and there has not been a single verified case of any sort of harm to humans or animals in that time. In particular the study of 1783 papers by Nicolia and the billion animal study of van Eenennaam have laid this canard to rest permaenently.

However, the organic industry has mounted a continuous scare campaign about the dangers of GM crops, leading to mendacious labeling such as “GMO free,” when in fact “GMOs” are not an ingredient but a breeding technique. The idea that there is any difference between animals fed GM crops and those fed conventional crops is simply absurd: there is no detectable difference of any kind.

In fact, just like “organic,” the “GMO free” label is a marketing label, attempting to extract more money from consumers by scaring them. The only result of this campaign is higher prices. But because of this relentless scare campaign, only 37% of the public believe GMO foods are safe to eat according to a Pew Research Center survey, while 88% of scientists do. And, in fact, there is a generation gap here as well with millennials more likely to seek out on GM foods. This has led to the ridiculous claims such as those by Hunt’s that you won’t find any GMO tomatoes in their products. That’s because there are no GMO tomatoes on the market!

Climate change. The year 2015 was the warmest on record. The year 2016 was likewise the warmest year on record. Virtually all climate scientists are convinced that climate change is occurring and caused  by humans, and that if we do not make significant modifications in our use of carbon-based fuels, the Earth will end in disaster, and fairly soon. Already, the ocean regularly invades the sewers of Miami Beach. It won’t be long until coastal flooding begins to make cities less habitable.

The Republican Party in the United States is the only major political party in the world who pretends to deny these obvious scientific facts, both because of lack of interest in science and because of their funding by the energy industry.  As Upton Sinclair has written,

“it is difficult to  to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

 

 

 

Are GMO producers covering up ‘just like’ Big Tobacco?

corntassels2016One of the popular slogans of anti-GMO protesters has been that there is a “cover-up” going on by GMO seed companies about the actual harm of GMO crops, just like the kind of cover-up that Big Tobacco carried out for 40 years on the dangers of smoking. You will hear this sort of talk from Dave Murphy from Food Democracy Now, who can sound pretty extreme in print (see this article in the Huffington Post) but when interviewed on MSNBC sounds somewhat more reasonable, even while talking through his hat. (Recently the Huffington Post was rated the worst anti-science web site by Skeptoid.)

However, in that interview, he does mention that the GMO companies are engaged in “cigarette science,” and not telling the “real truth.” The trope that a science cover-up on GMO crops is going on just like Big Tobacco carried out is common in anti-GMO protest signs and literature.

Tobacco history

We went back and looked at some of the history of the science on tobacco smoking and lung and heart disease. Surprisingly, the research goes back to at least 1950 (1), where the authors found that smokers were substantially more likely to develop lung carcinoma. This was one of only two papers on this subject in PubMed in 1950, but the number grew in subsequent years to hundreds and then thousands of papers per year, all pointing to the same conclusions.

So, in fact, the carcinogenicity of cigarettes was well known over 60 years ago, while it may have been discounted publicly by tobacco companies, there was no cover-up at that time.

However, when people began to ask questions about the dangers of second hand smoke (“passive smoking”), tobacco companies took an aggressive approach to neutralize the impact of this research. While Schmidt (2) indicated that the carcinogens in passive smoke were a serious problem, Grandjean et. al. suggested that there was unlikely to be a problem, but by 1981 researchers were pointing towards benzo(a)pyrene as a prime culprit in tobacco smoke. (4)

In 1998, as part of the resolution of a lawsuit by various attorneys-general against tobacco companies, the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement resulted in significant funds being transferred to the states and the tobacco companies ceasing various marketing practices. At the time, the entire archives of the Tobacco Institute and related front organizations became available to researchers.

Because of these documents and the many papers that have been published about them, we now know that the tobacco companies conspired to cover up the harm they knew was being caused by second hand smoke. They also used their law firms and advertising agencies to recruit apparently unbiased scientists to tout their points of view expressing skepticism about the dangers of second hand smoke.

In 2000, Ong and Glanz (5) described the tobacco industry’s efforts to discredit second hand smoke studies, and Drope and Chapman(6) described how this was done by reviewing tobacco industry documents. And the tobacco companies’ law firms and agencies constructed the term “junk science” to try to refute some of these studies as Ong and Glanz noted in 2001 (7).

Perhaps most disturbing was the industry’s attempts to recruit (and pay) independent scientists to repeat industry talking points. The scientists’ papers would still indicate that they were being supported by tobacco industry groups, but as Bero, Glanz and Hong revealed, this wasn’t that hard to get around, as they show by detailing payments to one scientist who published such papers. (8)

A complete history of the tobacco industry’s second hand smoke cove-up was published online by PR Watch.

Development of GM Crops

There are two major types of GM crops in wide use in the US and other countries: Bt maize (corn), cotton, potatoes and tobacco and Roundup resistant soy, corn, sorghum, canola, squash, alfalfa and sugar beets. Roundup-resistant wheat has been developed and found to be safe, but is not being marketed.

In addition, there are ringspot-resistant GM papayas, non-browning Arctic apples and the non-browning Simplot potato, as well as Golden Rice with Vitamin A bred into the plant to combat blindness in vulnerable populations.

Bt insecticides

The bacillus we now know as Bacillus thuringiensis was, according to a review by Je et. al. (9) discovered originally in Japan in 1901 by Ishiwati and rediscovered in Germany by Berliner in 1911 (10), when he isolated it from flour moths.

Bt was found to be toxic to various Lepidoptera that were known to be crop pests and it began to be used in France in 1938, (11) and interest in its use as an insecticide more broadly was due primarily to Steinhaus.(12). There are now a large number of varieties of the Bt, specific to a number of different insect pests. It was found by Angus (13) that during sporulation, it forms a crystalline protein that creates the toxicity.

The important breakthrough in Bt research was when Gonzalez (14) reported that the genes that coded for the crystal proteins were located on separate cell sections called plasmids, paving the way for the cloning of these genes and eventually for insertion of these genes into plant material. The first genes isolated coded Bt toxic to the tobacco hornworm (15), and soon several groups began creating transgenic plants with various Cry genes inserted. The first to reach the market was Bt cotton (16).

Koziel (17) and a dozen coworkers from Ciba-Geigy described the field performance of transgenic maize in 1993, and commercial Bt corn followed soon after the cotton.

Once the Cry genes which coded for various strains of Bt were inserted into foodstuffs, concern was expressed regarding their safety. Numerous independent short and long term studies have shown these foods to be completely safe, however (18, 19).

Roundup

Roundup or glyphosate herbicide was discovered and patented by Monsanto chemist John E Franz in 1970 (20). It’s effectively made by combination of glycine and phosphonic acid, hence the name shortened from glycine phosphonate. It is a contact herbicide, used to kill emerging weeds and is not used as a pre-emergent weed killer. Duke and Powles, in a mini-review (21) have called it a “once in a lifetime herbicide.” Franz received the National Medal of Technology (1987) and the Perkin Medal (1990) for this work.

Even before the development of Roundup resistant plants, Roundup was used by farmers to clear the fields before planting, obviating the necessity of tilling. Glyphosate is of extremely low human toxicity, comparable to aspirin or baking soda, and binds to the soil while it decomposes, so water supplies are not at risk. All the commercial patents have now expired, and it is made by a large number of companies.

Steinrucken and Amrhein (22) reported in 1980 that glyphosate killed plants by inhibiting synthesis of the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase, (ESPS) which is critical for the synthesis of the  aromatic amino acids phenylalaninetyrosine and tryptophan. If researchers could interfere with this process, they could create plants that could resist glyphosate.

After several years of experimentation in a number of groups, Klee, Muskopf and Gasser at Monsanto reported the creation of a glyphosate resistant petunia (23). This technique resulted in a general method for creating glyphosate resistant plants by cloning a gene that encodes ESPS and inserting it to various plants. Patents on this were filed in 1990 by Shah, Rogers, Horsch and Fraley (24). Fraley recently received the World Food Prize for leading this work.

Related approaches continued for some years and the first glyphosate tolerant soybeans were introduced to the market in 1996.

Research on Safety of Transgenic Plants

Substantial research on the safety of each of the genetically modified plants has been conducted and published by research groups inside and outside the various seed companies. A complete list of nearly 6oo peer-reviewed papers attesting to the safety of transgenic crops has been compiled and published by the Biofortified web site (25).

All of these papers are published in major peer-reviewed journals and thus as an aggregate represent the best scientific knowledge on these systems. Among these hundreds of papers representing thousands of experiments, there are really only two papers reporting health problems from genetically modified crops.

One of these, the paper by Giles-Eric Seralini (26) is the paper most frequently referenced in this regard. While Seralini and coworkers claimed to find that rats fed transgenic maize developed tumors, the Sprague-Dawley rats they used all develop tumors at the same rate as they observed. The paper has been denounced by dozens of scientists for poor experimental design and statistics. The European Food Safety Authority (27) published a final assessment, calling the study of “insufficient scientific quality for a safety assessment.”

Forbes contributor and molecular biologist Henry Miller and biochemist Bruce Chassey published a critical article of Seralini’s work as well (28).

The other recent paper purporting to find dangers in feeding transgenic crops to animals was published by Judy Carman, et. al, (29). Published in a low level on-line journal supported by the Organic Federation of Australia, and not even indexed in PubMed, it is of little scientific validity, and was immediately criticized by scores of scientists.

Carman’s study fed pigs either transgenic or conventional maize for 23 months and then examined their stomachs after slaughter. They claimed that GM-fed pigs had more inflammation, but their own tables show the opposite. Critics (30) also noted the visual inspection of stomachs is not the same as an actual histology study, and probably was meaningless. But most significant, FSANZ, the Food Standards Agency of Australia and New Zealand concluded (31) that the data “are not convincing of adverse effects due to the GM diet and provide no grounds for revising FSANZ’s conclusions.”

Comparison with Tobacco Cover-ups

In the case of tobacco companies, the cover-up was clear, because independent research had established and continued to establish the dangers of smoking and of second hand smoke, while at the same time, tobacco sponsored research was attempting to suggest alternate explanations for the observed diseases associated with such smoke.

By contrast, there are not really any credible studies from any source showing any damage to animals (or people) from any current transgenic crop. There is no sign of any coverup of evidence or papers adopting alternate hypotheses, because no negative results have been found. Nor are there conflicting conclusions presented by independent studies versus industry funded studies.

Consequently, there is no analogy between the near-criminal behavior of the tobacco companies and the relatively open research environment in which transgenic crops have been developed. There just doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a conspiracy.

The only evidence we find of mendacity and conspiracy is in Seralini’s and Carman’s papers, which have been found to be wanting of solid, believable science. And strangely enough, the web site gmoseralini.org and gmojudycarman.org have an identical design and style. And as Byrne and Miller noted (32), the organic industry is spending upwards of $2 1/2 billion opposing transgenic crops.

 

References

  1. Smoking and Carcinoma of the Lung, R. Doll and A. Bradford Hill, British Medical Journal, 739, Sept 30, 1950
  2. Health Damage by Means of Forced Smoking, F. Schmidt, Med, 1979, 97(42) 1920.
  3. Passive Smoking, E. Grandjean, A Weber, T. Fischer, Schweiz. Akad. Med. Wiss. 1979 Mar;35(1-3):99-109.
  4. Carcinogenicity of airborne fine particulate benzo(a)pyrene: an appraisal of the evidence and the need for control. F Perera, Environ Health Perspect. 1981 Dec;42:163-85.
  5. Tobacco industry efforts subverting International Agency for Research on Cancer’s second-hand smoke study, Elisa K Ong, Stanton A Glantz, The Lancet, 355 , April 8, 2000.
  6. Tobacco industry efforts at discrediting scientific knowledge of environmental tobacco smoke: a review of internal industry documents, J Drope and S Chapman, J Epidemiol Community Health 2001;55:588-594.
  7. Constructing “Sound Science” and “Good Epidemiology”: Tobacco, Lawyers, and Public Relations Firms. E. Ong and S. Glanz, Am J Public Health.2001 November; 91(11): 1749–1757.
  8. The limits of competing interest disclosures, L.A. Bero, S. Glanz and M-K Hong, Tob Control2005;14:118-126
  9. Bacillus Thuringiensis as a Specific, Safe, and Effective Tool for Insect Pest Control. Yeo Ho Je al. J. Microbiol. Biotechnol. (2007), 17(4), 547–559.
  10. Berliner, E. 1911. Uber de schlaffsucht der Mehlmottenraupe. Zeitschrift fur das Gesamstadt 252: 3160-3162
  11. Lambert, B. and M. Peferoen. 1992. Insecticidal promise of Bacillus thuringiensis. Facts and mysteries about a successful biopesticide. BioScience 42: 112-122.
  12. Steinhaus, E. A. 1951. Possible use of B. t. berliner as an aid in the control of alfalfa caterpillar. Hilgardia 20: 359-381.
  13. Angus, T. A. 1956. Association of toxicity with proteincrystalline inclusions of Bacillus sotto Ishiwata. J. Microbiol. 2: 122-131.
  14. Gonzalez, J. M. Jr., B. J. Brown, and B. C. Carlton. 1982. Transfer of Bacillus thuringiensis plasmids coding for δ-endotoxin among strains of B. thuringiensis and B. cereus. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 79: 6951-6955.
  15. Schnepf, H. E. and H. R. Whiteley. 1981. Cloning and expression of the Bacillus thuringiensis crystal protein gene in Escherichia coli. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 78: 2893-2897.
  16. Shelton, A. M., J. Z. Zhao, and R. T. Roush. 2002. Economic, ecological, food safety, and social consequences of the deployment of Bt transgenic plants. Rev. Entomol. 47: 845-881
  17. Koziel, al. Field Performance of Elite Transgenic Maize Plants Expressing an Insecticidal Protein Derived from Bacillus thuringiensis. Nature Biotechnology11, 194 – 200 (1993).
  18. G Flachowsky, K Aulrich, H. Bohme , I. Halle. Studies on feeds from Genetically Modified Plants (GMP), Contributions to nutritional and safety assessment. Animal Feed and Science Technology, 133 (2007) 2-30.
  19. G Flachowsky, K Aulrich, Halle. Long-term feeding of Bt-corn– a ten generation study with quails. Arch Anim Nutr. 2005 Dec;59(6):449-51.
  20. US Patent 3799758.
  21. O. Duke and S.B. Powles, Glyphosate: a once in a lifetime herbicide. Pest Manag Sci 64:319–325 (2008).
  22. Steinrücken, H.C.; Amrhein, N. (1980). “The herbicide glyphosate is a potent inhibitor of 5-enolpyruvylshikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase”.Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications94 (4): 1207–12.
  23. J. Klee, Y.M. Mushopf and C.S. Gasser, Cloning of an Arabidopsis thaliana gene encoding 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase: sequence analysis and manipulation to obtainglyphosate-tolerant plants. Mol Gen Genet. 1987 Dec;210(3):437-42.
  24. US Patent 4940835.
  25. See http://biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/
  26. G-E Seralini al., Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize, Food Chem Toxic., 50(11), 2012, 4221-4231.
  27. European Commission, Final Review of Seralini al…, EFSA Journal 2012,10(100, 2985.
  28. Henry Miller and Bruce Chassey, Scientists Smell a Rat in Fraudulent Genetic Engineering Study, Forbes 8/25/12.
  29. J Carman, al, A long term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined GM soy and GM maize diet, J Organic Systems, 8(1) 2013, 38-54.
  30. David Gorski, More bad science in the service of anti-GMO activism, Science Based Medicine, June 17, 2013.
  31. Response to a feeding study by Carman et. al., FSANZ, July, 2013.
  32. Byrne and Henry Miller, The roots of the anti-genetic engineering movement: Follow the money, Forbes, 1022/2012