“Nuts won’t save your life” – some common sense rethinking about healthy eating

I am feeling a bit devastated. I’ll explain why below.

But first, let me start out by saying I’m doing really well since recommitting to WFPB (whole food plant based) eating. Over the last 90 days I’ve lost 20 lb. I’ve lost 59 lb in all by eating WFPB over the last few years. My blood tests are amazing. My total cholesterol is down to 124 and my bad cholesterol, LDL, is down to 67. My HbA1c blood sugar is almost down to normal. My blood pressure is 116/67. I’m feeling great. I have more energy. Even my skin is clearer! I am “staying the course” and sticking with WFPB eating. I’m convinced it’s the healthiest diet, and the most suitable for me. My doctor is also impressed and says, “Just keep doing whatever you’re doing.” I’m even doing daily exercise!

A few months ago I bought the best book I ever read on health and nutrition, “How Not to Die” by Dr Michael Greger. It is so gripping and convincing I gifted the book to friends and relatives and have been talking it up all over the place. And reading the book jump-started me back on WFPB eating 90 days ago. It is that inspiring.

Over the last two weeks my weight loss has stalled. That’s not a big thing in and of itself. That’s not the cause of feeling devastated. I’ve had stalls before, even over the last 90 days. But the reason for this stall has led me to seriously rethink some premises in Greger’s book.

In particular, it has me rethinking nuts – part of Dr. Greger’s “Daily Dozen” in “How Not to Die.” He stresses how important they are to ensure you are absorbing the nutrients from your salads. He even claims they won’t hurt weight loss. I am thinking now that is just not true.

Right now I’m doing an experiment to see how much the nuts really do affect my weight by counting them very strictly, even when they’re in salads, despite the videos and claims of Dr. Greger saying they don’t count.

Because of Dr. Greger’s claims that the calories in nuts do not affect weight loss when added to green salads with no other healthy fats, I’ve not been logging the nut calories in my salads. I’ve not been counting them towards my daily 1800 calorie net calorie count. Yes, I know that seems strange (calories count whether you count them or not), but Dr. Greger quotes all sorts of research studies showing why that’s possible. But is he right?

The true total calories of my regular salads (cukes, tomatoes, legumes, 1 tablespoon of walnuts, 1 teaspoon of flaxseed and my own homemade dressing made with soy milk, dijon mustard, and balsamic vinegar) jumps to an actual 245 calories per salad instead of the 99 calories I had been “guesstimating” by deliberately not counting the nuts, and failing to add in the calories for my homemade healthy dressing, which I started making after dropping commercially bought low-cal or zero-cal dressings.

Here is what shook me today. Take a look at this video somebody in a HNTD group introduced me to: “Nuts won’t save your life.”

https://youtu.be/IvFHuqI-TCw

It’s 48 minutes long, but gripping. All the details about Dr. Greger and HNTD start at about 13:30 minutes. I watched the video today from beginning to end. The presenter, Jeff Nelson, seems incredibly knowledgeable and convincing. What do people know of him?

The reason I’m feeling somewhat devastated is because he really does a job on Dr. Greger’s claims, all in a very pointed, scientific way. Dr. Greger really needs to respond. It’s perfectly fine for Dr. Greger to acknowledge mistakes and update his book and site if it needs to be changed. But he needs to respond.

If the video presenter is right though, what does this mean about the rest of what Dr. Greger reports in his book? The video claims that all this macro-management of nutrients (Greger’s initial point about adding walnuts) is meaningless. That the Daily Dozen is essentially meaningless. That all that matters is being vegan, with no oils or added fats and basically that’s it. If you want to cut back on sugar and salt fine, but all the other stuff is basically like adhering to a cult.

In other words, what Ornish and Esselstyn and McDougall and Chef AJ, etc., all have been saying for years is sufficient for healthy eating. There is no health advantage to adding the nuts. And it probably hurts weight loss. And they might not be good if you have heart disease.

If the video is correct, then what’s the point of “How Not to Die”?

Well, the book did inspire me to get back on WFPB. And I mentioned all the positive outcomes so far. That’s all great of course. But is the rest of the book just mumbo jumbo?

I’m sticking with WFPB eating. I’m convinced it’s the healthiest way of eating and it is doing me good.

But for now I’m a HNTD skeptic. I’m testing the calories of the nuts, because they are tasty. But I may give them up. And WFPB eating can be easy with fewer rather than more rules and lists and worries.

It might be best to just keep it simple: vegan, whole foods, no oils, exercise, and also limit the very high fat otherwise healthy foods like avocados and nuts, without any daily check lists or going crazy about worrying about macronutrients and so forth.

What do people think?


Comments

“Nuts won’t save your life” – some common sense rethinking about healthy eating — 5 Comments

  1. You and I have followed a similar path, and are eating the same way. I sympathize with you when one of your heroes falls down from the elevated place he once had (I am not being sarcastic at all, I have had numerous heroes of mine over the years fall).

    I too have been trying to find the perfect way for health long term. Years ago, I become Seventh-Day Adventist for religious reasons, and become vegetarian simply because the university I started going to (SDA) was vegetarian vis-a-vie the campus cafeteria of which was included in my fees. I gained weight over 4 years, at the time I did not know why even though I thought it was the right way due to God’s revealed truth via the early church founders. Now I know it was larger amounts of medium density processed starches in the form of pastas and breads, and higher density caloric foods in the form of dairy (cheeses, milk), and oils. I left the church for another reason, and went back to SAD eating.

    A few years ago, I decided to go vegan due to youtube channels including NutritionFacts.org and Dr Gregor was a wonderful influence. I could not lose weight, as to I was still including processed starches (pastas and breads), with added oils. I kept tweaking, adding in a few months experiment with Dr. McDougalls emphasis on starches. That did not work, so I tried fasting, but the call of vegan pizza’s and sandwiches was how I kept breaking those fasts. I added in Dr. Furhman’s nutrient density in the form of GBOMBS everyday, but again I could not lose weight since I included nuts and seeds, as well as processed starches.

    Recently I have added Dr. Esselstyn’s study on 198 very sick heart and stroke patients (I know you know this, I type this for other readers). Those that followed his program had a 99.8% remission in follow up heart, and vascular events. Even my friend, whom I set onto the same program, had this same remission. I think If it works for very very sick people, it will work for healthy people.

    Jeff Novick writes and speaks about caloric density. Which simply presents weight loss as a simply formula. Calories in less calories out equals weight loss or gain. That’s the ‘first principle’ I am sticking to, and every food needs to be put into this equation. Nuts and seeds are near the high end, due to higher oils. The exact percent which is digested is still not clear, which is where Dr Gregor presents his studies. In a bomb calorimeter nuts and seeds are high, but in the human body, there is less digestion than expected. Research is still in the early stages regarding the biome that is involved in this process.

    I did the same as you regarding nuts and seeds. I saw a series of videos on nutritionfacts.org about nuts, and since the conclusion I deduced was that nuts are less fattening than expected, I could then treat these as calorically neutral. This is not what was explicitly stated on Dr Gregors site. I deduced that. The videos present an unclear situation regarding weight gain regarding nuts. Which is reflected in the studies he presents.

    Dr Gregor is awesome for new people getting started in plant based whole foods. Dr Esselstyn is the ideal, with elements of Dr Fuhrman, Dr McDougall, as well as the Loma Linda Seventh Day Adventists. For weight loss, add in Jeff Novick’s calorie density equations. Your sharing of the book “how not to die” is baby steps for new people. Once your family and friends accept the premise of plant based, whole foods, and make these changes into daily habits, then when it is so ingrained to no longer need will power, you could introduce tweaking like you have done for yourself regarding nuts.

    I too have read the recent complain about nuts and Dr Gregor. But, nuts are not dangerous to long lived people. To sick people, yes nuts are likely to be problematic through the large fat/oil content on the arterial wall stiffening. To fat people, nuts are likely to be problematic due to the large fat/oil content that likely digests at a lower percent than expected, but still are concentrated calories. Higher caloric density. Dr Gregor does not present his site as to be perfect for very sick people, nor very fat people. He says that all of the top conditions 14/15 of which people die (not including suicide) improve through plant based whole foods. So to judge him and his site for more than he claims not useful. He is a great resource for the unwashed. For the SAD peoples. After they come to believe, then the sick go to Esselstyn, the tweakers go to Furhman, and the fat losers go to Jeff Novick, and the comfort foods go to McDougall’s starches.

    I love that we can be a world apart literally, and men of like mind can share snapshots of their health lives through blogs. I believe many people will benefit from you blog, and comments that we share. Thank you for your blog, and your life changes, and the fact that this connection of like minded people can occur through time and space.

  2. To summarize my TL;DR previous comment:
    Dr Gregor does not present his site as to be perfect for very sick people, nor very fat people. He says that all of the top conditions 14/15 of which people die (not including suicide) improve through plant based whole foods. So to judge him and his site for more than he claims is not useful.
    He is a great resource for the unwashed. For the SAD peoples. After they come to believe, then the sick go to Esselstyn, the tweakers go to Furhman, and the fat losers go to Jeff Novick, and the comfort foods go to McDougall’s starches.

    You seem fit into the fat losers whom hit the loss plateau, and realize that nuts, seeds, avocados are the problem, and Novick’s Calorie density rule applies.

    The vegsource guy is introducing doubt through fundamentalism, obligating Dr Gregor to be perfect according to his standards. That Dr Gregor must comply with his current view of nuts. Let VegSource make his own site and his own blog. The research studies on nuts are still inconclusive, due to the incomplete fats digestion. The vascular implications are unstudied at large, yet seem conclusive in light of Esselstyn’s studies, for sick people. I dislike movie critics as they tear down, and I dislike this vegsource guy whom also tears down, instead of carefully modifying Dr Gregors nuts recommendations for the sick and the fat. Those that suggest everything must be torn down due to some fault they determine is horrible, are fundamentalists. No thank you. I like your outlook on life, your outlook on finding pleasures in birds and nature, and your desire to improve your life for the next 30 years via plant based whole foods.

    Steve

  3. Thanks very much for your comments, Steve. I think they provided valuable perspective. I am not so familiar with Jeff Nelson of the vegsource guy, but it seemed like a well-made video with some interesting points.

    It also must be true that people like Esselstyn, McDougall, and Ornish (with whom I started my vegan + no oil + no nuts adventure 6 years ago) are also skeptical of the vital nutritional importance of nuts, though I notice that Ornish currently allows for 1 walnut per day.

    While the Vegsource guy doesn’t concentrate on the question of calories, Greger himself does seem to claim that the calories in the recommended walnuts simply don’t count. I think it’s fair to say that is probably not true.

    The basic thing for me is that I never would have even dreamed of adding nuts back to my diet except for the fact that Greger goes on and on about how important they are nutritionally and how reassuring he is that the nuts won’t adversely affect weight loss. If not for the first point I wouldn’t have bothered with them. And it was the second point that clinched me into wanting to try them.

    Anyway, I am currently scrupulously counting the calories in the nuts I’m adding, and I won’t repurchase after my supply is gone in another couple of days.

    I just didn’t want to feel like I was missing something important, nutritionally. And I am left wondering, somewhat, how accurate all of Greger’s nutritional recommendations are.

  4. My experience is that “one size fits all” just doesn’t work for nutrition, despite what many books with different ideas may say. Jeanne and I have been married for 37 years now, and it’s pretty clear to us that our metabolisms function very differently. We’re both lifetime Weight Watchers who have been at our goal weight for several years, but aside from dinner together we rarely eat the same stuff. She manages carbs much better than I do, and a breakfast of cereal that would leave me craving more food in a couple of hours will last her into the afternoon – I lose control very quickly in that scenario. It’s easy for me to understand that while some folks might do very well controlling their weight while eating lots of nuts it wouldn’t work for others.

    The WW leader whom I know best is a vegan, even though that’s not a necessary part of the WW program and she rarely mentions that aspect of her personal eating habits. I don’t know what she does about nuts specifically (I’ll find out), but I know that her approach would be just what you’re doing now: experiment to determine the actual effect on her own body and adjust accordingly.

  5. Doug, I agree in general about Dr Gregor. His presentation videos must cover some published papers, so he needs to select some and not include others. Everyone can be then accused of cherry picking, but that’s illogical in that there are thousands of papers published yearly, and one must draw a conclusion now based on papers now, and be willing to alter tomorrow if future studies are amazing conclusive on that topic.

    Nuts seem to me a recent cash crop. I have never read of a society that using nuts as their primary source of calories or even a large portion. Some blue zones eat a small portion with regularity. Nor can I recall a metabolic ward study on the same; participants eating most of their calories from nuts.

    Dr Gregor had to eventually cover nuts, since he has been making videos for years now. Nuts are not toxic, nor do any large health organization warn of consumption. I am not sure even Esselstyn tested arterial stiffening using whole nuts (he did for all plant based oils, which I assume included nut oils). I believe he induced that since nuts are high in fat, these must be bad for his health compromised patients. I do recall that recent studies suggest that the calories contained in nuts are not all digested by our bodies, and are deficated out of the body. This incomplete absorption is the issue, in my view, for the confusion in the studies that Dr Gregor presented. The weight gain was less than expected, when eating a measured amount of nuts. If that presumption is used to look back at his series of videos, it would explain for the theme of nuts being a caloric ‘free pass.’ Beyond that, I do not believe Dr Gregor included overt and large health benefits of eating nuts.

    I have concluded the same as you regarding eating nuts. Not much, not often, and adding the grams into Cronometer daily.

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