Lyon Park in autumn is no match for Flaming Vermont. But In The Yard, we’ve still got lots of seasonal Carolina color. Pause for a moment and breathe it in . . . .
First Up — This is Old Fashioned Weigela, which has been blooming off and on since spring. On it is one our resident bumblebees, who are a disturbing lot to watch: slow, befuddled, forlorn and feeble. This one didn’t seem to know which end of the blossom had the hidden nectar they were seeking. Is it just their time, or are they like Russian army conscripts, exhausted by years in the darker gulags, just waiting to be fed to the drones?
This solitary bloom of a Butterfly Bush is coming off a summer scarred by multiple droughts, in this case a near-total desert of butterflies. Didn’t used to be that way.
Japonica is the yellow-and green leafed centerpiece here, one of the first entries in our new free-form space. It was a threefer: with both green & yellow leaves, and a color combo that stayed year-round with little care. They’re Japanese originally I think. And they seem to get along fine with our China Rose close by, also a sturdy & prolific survivor.
Brown-eyed Susans have just come out and are keeping low in a corner.
The Zinnias are also past their peak, but are holding on for a big finish.
The other Japonica bush, largely yellow, stands with our wildlife habitat sign, which is our main token of respectability.
One more: another pitiful bumblebee is still searching for the the business end of this Weigela bloom. Some bee experts say many species in the US are declining and under threat.
[NOTE: I’ve followed the Graedons and their People’s Pharmacy articles for some years. I’ve also cited them to various doctors, who mostly scoffed; The Graedons are not “members of the club.” But they know the fields, cite sources for everything, and while they support home remedies with track records, are not antivaxxers or suchlike. This roundup of theirs on recent research flip-flops on numerous hot nutritional topics was particularly intriguing; and they invited readers to share it, so I am. But for the record: I am not a doctor or a pharmacologist, and this blog is not selling any pills, potions, poultices or panaceas. Readers are urged to check claims and consult trusted professionals for medical advice.]
Has the Flip-Flop on Saturated Fat Made Your Head Spin?
Cholesterol and saturated fat are bad for your heart, right? How do you handle the flip-flop on saturated fat and dietary cholesterol?
If you are not confused and maybe even exasperated over all the contradictions around food in recent years, we would be amazed. Doctors, just like the rest of us, are challenged by uncertainty. Medical students are eager learners. They often embrace what their mentors teach them with a great deal of enthusiasm. After all, they will be tested to see how well they mastered the infinite number of details that are thrown at them. That is especially true when it comes to dietary dogmas. When there is a flip-flop on saturated fat it leaves many health professionals confused and dismayed.
Cholesterol In Eggs? The Controversy Persists!
It has been hard for some physicians to accept the idea that what their mentors taught them could be wrong. There is no better example than dietary cholesterol. The accepted wisdom for decades was that consuming high-cholesterol foods like eggs would raise cholesterol in the body and increase the risk for heart disease.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommended limiting egg consumption to no more than three a week! In 2002, however, the AHA moderated that restriction, and by 2013 it admitted that a low-cholesterol diet might not reduce dangerous LDL cholesterol in the body.
Since then, most studies have not found that eating eggs causes clogged arteries. A review (Current Atherosclerosis Reports, July 2023) notes:
“A meta-analysis of 39 observational studies including nearly 2 million individuals found no association between the highest intake of eggs and CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality, and similar findings were presented in another meta-analysis of 24 observational studies of over 11 million individuals that found no association between highest intake of eggs and CVD mortality.”
But wait, if you think that concludes the controversy, the same authors conclude that the egg question remains unsettled. Their summary states:
“Recent findings are inconsistent regarding the possible relationship between egg consumption and CVD mortality and morbidity.”
Of course, such a conclusion leaves both physicians and patients unsatisfied. The same can be said of other dietary dogmas.
Sat Fat Is Sinful…Or Is There A Flip-Flop on Saturated Fat?
For years, doctors and dietitians have had a mantra for healthy eating: Stay away from foods containing cholesterol and saturated fat; they will clog your arteries and lead to heart attacks. Even after the egg controversy seemed semi-resolved, most health professionals maintain that saturated fat is a killer.
It remains an article of faith. Most Americans believe this and are careful to avoid whole milk and other full-fat dairy products. The American Heart Association (AHA) warns on its website to substitute fat-free (skim or “light”) milk and low-fat yogurt or cheese. The latest research, however, contradicts the AHA (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Sept. 2021).
AHA Resists Flip-Flop on Saturated Fat:
America’s premier heart association wants everyone to shun dairy fat. That’s because the AHA believes the cholesterol and saturated fat in milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream will raise blood levels of cholesterol. And high cholesterol will lead to heart disease and ultimately to heart attacks.
An awful lot of people believe this story. Tens of millions of Americans now buy low-fat or non-fat yogurt. Such products dominate the dairy section in most grocery stores. There are also lots of milk substitutes based on plants such as soybeans or almonds.
Eating Low Fat Dairy Products Doesn’t Lead to AHA-Expected Outcomes:
A randomized controlled trial compared consumption of low-fat and high-fat dairy products over 12 weeks (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Sept. 2021). The control group limited their intake of dairy products.
All of the participants in this trial had metabolic syndrome. This constellation of high blood sugar, elevated cholesterol, hypertension and a large waist puts people at high risk for heart disease and diabetes. These are considered prime candidates for heart attacks, so they are the perfect subjects for this controlled trial.
Cardiologists might be surprised by the results of this study because they contradict conventional wisdom. There were no differences between groups with respect to LDL, HDL or total cholesterol, triglycerides or free fatty acids.
Please hit the pause button in your brain. Let the words percolate through your synapses.
Better yet, read the authors’ observations in their own words:
“In this 12-wk RCT [randomized controlled trial] in individuals with MetS [metabolic syndrome], consuming 3.3 servings of full-fat dairy/d in the form of milk, yogurt, and cheese did not significantly affect the fasting lipid profile compared with consuming identical amounts of low-fat dairy or a diet limited in dairy. This included no significant difference in the cholesterol content of any of the 38 isolated plasma lipoprotein fractions, despite substantial differences between the 3 diets in the consumption of total fat and SFAs [saturated fatty acids].
“The results of this study challenge the hypothesis that consuming full-fat dairy products increases the risk of CVD through elevating total and LDL-cholesterol concentrations, as a result of their high SFA and cholesterol content.”
The researchers conclude:
“In men and women with metabolic syndrome, a diet rich in full-fat dairy had no effects on fasting lipid profile or blood pressure compared with diets limited in dairy or rich in low-fat dairy. Therefore, dairy fat, when consumed as part of complex whole foods, does not adversely impact these classic CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk factors.”
Another Flip-Flop on Saturated Fat:
Lest you think this is brand new research, here is a summary about saturated fat and heart disease published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (March 18, 2014). The authors reviewed data on 600,000 volunteers. They could not find convincing evidence that a diet rich in saturated fat leads to heart disease.
Of course this defied conventional wisdom. Many nutrition experts rejected the research. But let’s drill down a bit deeper into what they did almost a decade ago. The authors reviewed 72 studies, arguably the best research at that time. They examined the relationship between diet and heart disease.
The conclusion in doctorspeak:
“…we found essentially null associations between total saturated fatty acids and coronary risk in studies using dietary intake and in those using circulating biomarkers…In contrast, we found a possible inverse association between circulating margaric acid (an odd-chain saturated fatty acid that is moderately correlated with milk and dairy fat consumption and coronary disease, suggesting that odd-chain saturated fats, which reflect milk or dairy consumption, may have less deleterious effects in risk for coronary heart disease.”
We know that is a bit hard to unwind. You know that null = no association. So, they found no connection between saturated fat and clogged arteries. More challenging and a real flip-flop on saturated fat is the second sentence. It suggests an inverse relationship between dairy fat consumption and “coronary disease.” Inverse means opposite or contrary to what might be expected.
The researchers also noted that polyunsaturated fats low in cholesterol such as corn or safflower oil do not appear to protect people from heart attacks. This too contradicts the nutritional principles that have reigned in the U.S. for decades. This is all quite heretical.
The only culprits that stood out in this mass of data were trans fats. The researchers found a clear link between consumption of foods high in trans fats and heart disease.
Americans were once encouraged to consume margarine and shortening made of hydrogenated vegetable oil loaded with trans fats on the understanding that these low-cholesterol solid fats would be better for the heart than butter or lard. Such advice now seems to have been based more on belief than evidence.
The Flip-Flop on Saturated Fat Disappeared Without a Trace:
Here are the conclusions of the study in the Annals of Internal Medicine:
“In conclusion, the pattern of findings from this analysis did not yield clearly supportive evidence for current cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of saturated fats.”
Lest you think the Annals of Internal Medicine is some wackadoodle medical journal that is easily ignored, please reconsider. This publication was established in 1927 and is one of the premier journals in American medicine. It is published by the American College of Physicians (ACP) and according to Widipedia is:
“…one of the most widely cited and influential specialty medical journals in the world.”
Do Not Expect Experts to Do a Flip-Flop on Saturated Fat:
There have been lots of studies demonstrating that the old dietary dogma was flawed and yet the AHA has not changed its stand on cholesterol and saturated fat in foods. The Sydney Diet Heart Study ran between 1966 and 1973 in Australia. The results weren’t published for 40 years (BMJ, Feb. 5, 2013).
The researchers in this experiment assigned high-risk men to use either margarine or butter during that time. Men using safflower oil margarine were 60 percent more likely to die over the years of the study. The absolute risk of death from heart disease went from 10 percent on the butter-rich diet to 16.3 percent on the margarine-based diet.
Another trial pitting butter against margarine ran about the same time. The Minnesota Coronary Experiment involved more than 9,000 patients in mental institutions and a nursing home. The researchers had total control over the subjects’ diets. The test diets included one high in saturated fat and the other high in polyunsaturated fats from corn oil.
Like the Sydney Diet Heart Study, the results were not what the investigators expected. Perhaps that explains why the data were not published until much later (Atherosclerosis, Jan-Feb. 1989). Patients on the corn oil diet had less cholesterol in their blood, but they were just as likely to die from heart disease.
What About Saturated Fat in Meat?
Here are more analyses published in the highly regarded Annals of Internal Medicine (Oct. 1, 2019). Get the straight and skinny on this research in our overview at this link.
The French never bought the American prohibition on saturated fat. They were loathe to give up their Brie, Camembert, paté, boeuf bourguignon and chocolate soufflé. Cardiologists were puzzled by the “French paradox.” Despite such foods rich in saturated fat, French heart attack rates have been considerably lower than those in the U.S.
If there is a moral to this ongoing diet controversy, it is that high-fat dairy products do not appear to be as dangerous as doctors once thought. Despite the latest study and all the others that have gone before it, we do not expect the AHA or nutrition experts to change their thinking.
In recent years we have seen the pillars of dietary dogma collapsing. Here is a list:
Before, cholesterol-laden yolks were thought to clog your arteries and lead to heart disease.
Now, eggs are considered an excellent source of high-quality protein.
Coconuts and avocados:
Before, these foods were off limits because of high saturated fat content.
Now, they are considered OK with potential health benefits.
Before, these were high fat treats, thought to raise cholesterol, heart attack risk and cause weight gain.
Now, nuts are known to contain good fats and data prove people who eat nuts lower their risk of heart attacks!
Before, shrimp were believed to be sinful, high in cholesterol and dangerous for those at risk of heart disease.
Now, they are considered a good source of protein and raise good HDL cholesterol.
Before, butter was a no-no because it is high in sat fat and cholesterol.
Now, butter is better than margarine made from trans fats.
Before, salt was bad, raising blood pressure and causing heart disease.
Now, data indicate that there is a sweet spot. Going too low on sodium increases the risk of death!
Before, people were told to lay off the java because it raises blood pressure and harms the heart.
Now, coffee is a known source of dietary antioxidants. It helps prevent diabetes and may partially protect against neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia.
Before, chocolate was frowned upon as fattening and bad for the skin. It was also viewed as contributing to indigestion and reflux by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter. Chocolate was featured on many lists of foods that people prone to migraine should avoid.
Now, chocolate with more cocoa flavanols than sugar is known to relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure. It may help maintain good cognitive function and reduce the risks of stroke and heart attack. While some individuals may find that chocolate triggers reflux or a migraine, most people handle it without difficulty.
Whole Milk, Cream & High-Fat Yogurt:
Before, high-fat dairy foods were believed to contribute to heart disease and obesity.
Now, studies show that both kids and adults who consume high-fat dairy are actually skinnier than those who consume skim milk and low-fat dairy products. The new research (above) shows that saturated fat found in high-fat dairy does not cause heart disease.
The Bottom Line on Saturated Fat:
What are we to make of all the food confusion? If there is a take-home message from all this, it is that evidence trumps belief. For decades “experts” have made assumptions about various foods. Because egg yolks contained cholesterol, they decided that eggs caused heart disease, without any data to support that hypothesis.
When research actually revealed that eggs do not cause heart disease, there has been a begrudging retreat from the hard line advice to shun eggs. But old ideas die hard. There are still many health professionals who caution against eating foods like eggs, avocados, nuts and shrimp, despite data to the contrary.
What About Dairy Products?
We suspect that the evidence that full-fat dairy products don’t raise cholesterol in high-risk patients will be challenging for most health professionals to accept. After all, it contradicts everything we have been told about a heart-healthy diet for more than 50 years.
Accepting the data (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Sept. 2021) and the analysis of 72 studies involving more than 600,000 people would mean that our thought leaders and policy makers got it wrong. In such scenarios, many people would prefer to shoot the messengers and pretend that the data do not exist. The research is likely to disappear without a trace and some nutrition experts will pretend it never saw the light of day.
In case you think this is old news, a study published in the journal BMC Cardiovascular Disorders (July 21, 2023) comes to a similar conclusions. The authors introduce their study with this statement:
“The role of fatty acids in coronary heart disease (CHD) remains uncertain. There is little evidence from large-scale epidemiological studies on the relevance of circulating fatty acids levels to CHD risk.”
The researchers examined data from roughly 90,000 participants in the UK Biobank. Blood lipids were measured and people were followed up for about 12 years. High triglyceride levels were the bad actors rather than saturated fatty acids. What raises triglycerides? A diet that high in ultra-processed foods is a major culprit. That means simple carbohydrates and sugar! Fiber-rich foods lower triglyceride levels.
What should you do? We follow the advice of Robert Lustig, MD, author of the book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease and Michael Pollen, author of In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto. They make it very clear: “EAT REAL FOOD!”
If it comes in a package with a long list of unpronounceable chemical ingredients, think twice or three times! Grandmothers instinctively knew that food grown in the garden and prepared with love was better than anything produced in a factory. Joe’s mother always believed butter was better than margarine and it turns out she was right.
What do you think? We would love to get your response to this essay. How do you deal with the food flip-flops of the last several years regarding nuts, chocolate, coffee and coconut? What do you make of the saturated fat controversy?
If you agree with the mantra to “Eat Real Food!” you may find our books, Recipes and Remedies from The People’s Pharmacy and Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life worth checking out. . . .
If you think this article was worthwhile, please share it with friends and family. . .
[NOTE: And before you ask . . . this photo is from their newsletter]
All was hushed just before dawn when Debbie Gabriel double-parked at her usual spot on Lefferts Avenue, a neighborhood of single-family homes and low apartment blocks in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Almost as soon as she turned off the ignition, street cats in all shades and sizes started pouring out from an alley behind a tall iron gate like extras in a zombie movie.
A dozen cats in all stood there, softly purring for their breakfast, as Ms. Gabriel set out bowls of food and water on the pavement.
It was a familiar scene for Ms. Gabriel, who has been a caretaker of numerous cat colonies over the past 23 years. “There are days when I don’t want to get up,” she said. “But when I think of their little faces — if they can stand there at 4:30 in the morning and wait for me, the least I can do is show up for these babies.”
The problem is hardly limited to Flatbush. There are colonies in virtually every neighborhood with suitable nooks and crannies — in Bushwick, in Washington Heights, in Ozone Park. There may be as many as half a million feral cats padding around New York City, but no one knows for sure.
“No one knows, and the city doesn’t care to know,” said Will Zweigart, the founder of Flatbush Cats, the nonprofit group that Ms. Gabriel and scores of others volunteer with. “Because if they knew, they would be accountable to do something about it.”
There are a number of reasons for the explosion in feral cat colonies. More people adopted pets during the pandemic, but keeping them soon became difficult. For one thing, pets are more expensive now. New York City — along with the rest of the country — faces a severe shortage of veterinarians, many of whom were overwhelmed and burned out by the high demand for their services, and veterinary fees have outpaced the average rate of inflation for the past 20 years.
Add to that the expiration of eviction moratoriums and other pandemic economic protections, and many New Yorkers simply can’t afford their pets anymore. Some people, fearing that their unwanted cats would be euthanized if they were taken to a shelter, simply let them out on the streets and hoped for the best.
This is where self-appointed colony caretakers like Ms. Gabriel — she takes pride in the title “cat lady” — devote their efforts. “Everyone on my block comes to me when they have a cat issue,” she said. People mostly appreciate her efforts, but a few are hostile to the cats, especially in late spring, the height of breeding season, when unfixed and sex-starved beasts yowl and fight over mates. (One reason she visits her colony so early in the morning is to avoid unpleasant encounters with neighbors.)
Ms. Gabriel’s vigilance has helped her save some cats from a sad end. She recalled seeing a man crossing the street one summer morning lugging a big cardboard box. “I asked him what he had in the box,” she said. “He opened it up and there were five kittens inside. His girlfriend had told him that they couldn’t keep them.”
The temperature was over 90 degrees. The kittens would have been dead in an hour if they were left on the street as planned. Ms. Gabriel snatched the box from him. She found homes for three of the kittens and adopted the other two herself. “I told the guy how important it was to neuter his cats, both for the cats’ sake and for the sake of the neighborhood,” she recalled. Then she arranged for a veterinarian to visit the man’s apartment and neuter his two remaining house cats.
Naturally, not everyone is thrilled with clusters of wild cats, particularly New York’s many birders — a population that also bloomed during the pandemic. Grant Sizemore, the director of invasive species programs at the American Bird Conservancy, estimated that outdoor cats kill 2.4 billion birds annually in the United States. “We don’t allow stray and feral dogs to roam the landscape,” Mr. Sizemore said. “And we shouldn’t allow it for cats either. It’s not safe for the cats, and it’s certainly not safe for the birds and other wildlife.”
Do feline predatory instincts have an upside? While New York’s feral cats kill lots of mice, they are no match for the city’s rats, which greatly outnumber them. Popular notions aside, cats rarely attack rats, though rodents do avoid nesting near often-pungent cat colonies.
But even most cat caretakers say they would far prefer that all cats lived indoors. “New Yorkers have no idea how difficult it is to be a street cat,” said Rachel Adams, a cat trapper for Flatbush Cats and a clinical psychologist at Kingsboro Psychiatric Center.
Mr. Zweigart unequivocally calls it “a crisis.” There are way too many cats outdoors, he said, and too few people willing to offer the friendly ones a place to live. “We cannot adopt our way out of this problem. That’s a Band-Aid at best.”
So under Mr. Zweigart’s leadership, Flatbush Cats has adopted a somewhat radical idea that was first developed in England in the 1950s to deal with a feral cat problem: T.N.R. — trap, neuter, return. Volunteers who have been certified in the procedure capture feral cats in animal traps, then bring them to veterinarians to be fixed. The cats are then released back to the streets to live out their lives, but without leaving litters behind. In theory, T.N.R. should gradually deplete and eventually eliminate the city’s cat colonies.
Animal protection groups like PETA and the ASPCA advocate T.N.R., and cities from Chicago to Jacksonville, Fla., have passed local ordinances supporting it. On the other hand, organizations like the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology oppose the method, holding that cats are a highly destructive invasive species that should not be allowed to live outdoors at all. They also say there is no solid evidence that T.N.R. has actually lowered outdoor cat populations anywhere that it is being practiced.
With the city taking a back seat, it has been left to nonprofits like Flatbush Cats to take up the slack. The organization is building a 3,700-square-foot veterinary clinic on Flatbush Avenue, which will open in August. The aim is to provide thousands of low-cost spay-and-neuter surgeries a year for cats whose owners often can’t afford to take them to commercial veterinarians, where the procedures can cost more than $500.
Still, not everybody in Flatbush is on board with this approach, according to Ryan Tarpey, the community program manager for Flatbush Cats. When Mr. Tarpey set out traps near of one notorious cat colony that had been residing in an empty lot for 47 years, some neighbors were outraged. “They told me, ‘These are our cats, they’ve been keeping the rats out,’” he said. “They ran me off the block.”
Even some caretakers are initially hesitant to set out cat traps. “Some people prefer to let the colony continue to procreate,” Ms. Adams, a Baltimore native who relocated to New York seven years ago, confirmed. “But most long-term caretakers have had so many bad experiences where they found dead cats or kittens, or their cats came back sick or injured,” she added. “Usually when that happens, they change their tone.”
Rob Holden, a 35-year-old account manager in the publishing industry who recently began volunteering with Flatbush Cats, is such a convert. Earlier this spring, Mr. Holden noticed an orange tabby lurking in a garage in the alley behind his apartment in Flatbush. The animal had a pronounced limp, and like most longtime street cats, it seemed wary of humans, and wouldn’t let him get close. So Mr. Holden jury-rigged a food-laden steel trap with a trip wire dangling from his second-story apartment. He also set up two motion-sensing cameras that would alert him when the cat approached.
It took four days, but when the cat finally worked up the courage to enter the trap, Mr. Holden was ready, yanking the trip wire and quickly whisking the creature off to a garage that Flatbush Cats has repurposed as a holding area for strays.
Its injuries were so severe (most likely from a fight with another cat) that in any other hands, the cat — now named Ramones — probably would have been euthanized. But volunteers took Ramones to a veterinarian who managed to patch him up with 14 stitches and a round of antibiotics.
The next step took longer. Ramones was not accustomed to living with humans. The process of getting street cats comfortable around people is labor-intensive, requiring hours of painstaking seduction. It doesn’t always work, but in this case it succeeded.
“Ramones is now without doubt one of the friendliest (and hungriest) cats I had ever met,” Mr. Holden said with real affection. “He’s recovering with a lovely foster couple. Needless to say, my first trapping experience has me hooked.”
Erin Schaff is a staff photographer for The Times, based in Washington.
I’m looking at a headline this morning that screams “AI Creators Fear the Extinction of Humanity,” and I suppose they could turn out to be right. But it’s still a bit early to declare a global emergency and turn all the machines off.