Excluding the Middle

This is going to be one of those seemingly pointless posts that doesn’t say a whole lot (and I’ll try to keep it short); it’s mainly just a background type of thing that I want to put up once so that I can just link to it in the future since I’ll be referring to it repeatedly.  I figure most of my readers will still be hungover from July 4th celebration anyhow and won’t really be paying attention or able to focus on anything more detailed.

What I want to discuss is a concept that I call ‘excluding the middle’ but which is more formally referred to as a logical fallacy called ‘the false dilemma‘,  the ‘either/or fallacy’ or a whole host of other things.  It’s something I see a lot in both Internetz articles and Internetz arguments.

In brief, people have a tendency to play this cute little game where a given situation can either be exactly one thing (their preference) or exactly one other thing where that other thing is some ludicrous stupid-ass extreme example that they use to attempt to prove their preference simply by how extreme (and dumb) it is.  But compared to something stupid, anything is better by comparison.

As an example, I am apparently quoted as having said that “…compared to the Standard American Diet, a diet of bug spray and skittles would be healthier.”   One extreme compared to another and the second is only better because of the awfulness of the first.  Except that I was joking…mostly.  In most arguments, the folks falling prey to this trap are not.

Now, whether or not this is just some aspect of human nature where we want things to be one thing or another, or because people are bad at making logical arguments or what I have no idea.  Nor do I really care.  It’s called a logical fallacy for a reason and I’m going to give you four explicit examples to try to get my point across.

But simply, life is not binary and most things comes in varying degrees of extreme and shades of gray.  As my favorite author once put it “The universe can count beyond two.”  He was using this statement in a different context (to point out that most things fall into a yes/no/maybe type of situation and there are rarely simply yes/no answers) but it applies here too.  Hopefully this little piece will help you count beyond two.

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Nutrient Intake, Nutrient Storage and Nutrient Oxidation

This is going to be a bit of technical/unapplied article, I’m going to try to keep it short and to the point and mainly it serves as a background for some topics I want to talk about in the near future (especially alcohol) so just be forewarned as you start on this.  When people talk about diet, it’s common to divide the various nutrients that humans consume into two gross categories which are:

  1. Macronutrients: nutrients consumed in large amounts (‘macro’ = large)
  2. Micronutrients: nutrients consumed in small mounts (‘micro’ = small)

So macronutrient refers to protein, carbohydrates, fats and alcohol, those nutrients that, when they are consumed are generally consumed in gram or larger amounts.  The micronutrients refers to vitamins and minerals which are usually consumed in very small amounts (e.g. the DRI for Vitamin C is 60mg where 1mg is 1/1000th of a gram).  I’m not going to talk about micronutrients in this article and will only focus on the macronutrients, specifically protein, carbohydrate, fat and alcohol.

I’m also going to assume that you’re getting your nutrients through food and it’s going in through your mouth. Certainly nutrients can be given via infusion but this is usually done in a hospital setting (sometimes athletes will rehydrate and carb-load with IV fluids and glucose, mind you) and I’ll assume you’re not doing that.

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Digestive Efficiency and Your Poop

Clearly anything you eat has to go through the process of chewing, swallowing and into the stomach for digestion.  There a bunch of stuff happens where the nutrients are broken down to one degree or another.  And either they get absorbed (moving into special cells to be released into the bloodstream, or lymphatic system in the case of dietary fats) or not.  If you’re particularly interested in the digestion processes of the different macronutrients, I’d refer you to the specific articles:

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A Primer on Nutrition Part 2

On Monday, in A Primer on Nutrition Part 1, I discussed essential vs. inessential (aka indispensable vs. dispensable) nutrients along with the basics of both protein and carbohydrates.  Today I want to finish taking a look at the basics of nutrition by looking at fat/cholesterol and then wrapping up ‘everything else’ including alcohol, vitamins/minerals and fiber (somewhat separate from vegetables).

.Fat and Cholesterol

Although I recently examined Fat and Cholesterol in some detail in A Primer on Dietary Fats Part 1 and A Primer on Dietary Fats Part 2 back in May, I want to take a briefer, more streamlined look at them in today’s article.  Readers wanting more details can click the above links.

Even though they are chemically and nutritionally distinct substances, dietary fat and cholesterol are so linked in the minds of most people that I’m going to discuss them together.   As well, along with the never-ending debate over carbohydrates in the diet, the issue of dietary fats is one of almost constant debate in both nutritional sciences and among nutritional experts.   I’m not going to get into those debates in any real detail here (since it’s about the basics) but interested readers can read Carbohydrate and Fat Controversies Part 1 and Carbohydrate and Fat Controversies Part 2 if they want more details.

First let met get cholesterol out of the way since I don’t actually have a tremendous amount to say about it. Cholesterol plays a number of roles in the body not the least of which is involvement in the structure of cell membranes in the body.  As well, cholesterol provides the ‘base’ for the steroid hormones, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and others are synthesized out of cholesterol in the body.

Of course, when most people hear the word ‘cholesterol’, they immediately think heart disease and, certainly, one aspect of cholesterol metabolism in the body is that it can cause atherosclerotic plaques (essentially the cholesterol builds up in arteries, potentially blocking blood flow).

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A Primer on Nutrition Part 1

In many articles on the site, I go into a rather great deal of detail on various aspects of human nutrition and the various nutrients that comprise it.  However, I find that it’s often exceedingly useful to go back to basics and discuss the fundamentals (this applies to all topics, not just nutrition).  Where appropriate, I’ll point readers to other articles on the site (or my books) which discuss a given topic in more detail than I want to cover here.

To keep the piece manageable, I’m going to divide it into two parts with Part 2 being run on Thursday.  Today I want to look at the issue of essential vs. non-essential nutrients as well as protein and carbohydrates.  On Thursday, I’ll tackle the issue of dietary fats along with everything else (fiber, alcohol, vitamins and minerals).

Essential vs. Non-essential Nutrients

The body has a requirement for somewhere around 60 nutrients on a daily basis for normal functioning.  Please note: as nutritional science has progressed, it’s now become apparent that many, many more nutrients may contribute to optimal health, although they are not necessarily required for survival.  Put differently, you can live without consuming them but you might be healthier or perform better if you did eat them.

I should also mention that this list of 60 nutrients includes things such as air and water that, while they aren’t considered as nutrients per se, are usually not an issue.  Put differently, if you’re having issues obtaining adequate amounts of air or water, you have bigger problems to deal with.

Of more relevance to today’s article, nutritional science often groups nutrients into the categories of essential and nonessential (recently the terms indispensable and dispensable have come into vogue) which is what I’d like to discuss next. For quick summary, there are roughly 8 essential amino acids, 2 essential fatty acids, a host of vitamins and minerals and a few others substances that are required on a daily basis.  You might note that carbohydrates were not listed as an essential nutrient, a topic I’ll come back to below.

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A Quick Look at Food Allergies and Intolerances

In recent year, a lot of ideas have become strangely popular on this place that we call the Internets, one of those is concern over various food allergies and intolerances.  As I’ll discuss below, not only are true food allergies and intolerance two totally different things, there is a lot of nonsensical information being thrown around about food allergies.

What seems to have happened is that one person stated that certain ideas were true and a bunch of people who didn’t know any better simply started repeating those ideas until they became an accepted ‘truth’.  Unfortunately, science says different and that’s what I’m going to look at.

The most common one that seems to be constantly repeated is that if you eat the same food (usually protein since most true food allergies are caused by proteins) continuously, you can give yourself an allergy to that food.  This happens to be utterly wrong as I’ll show below.

There are other silly ideas, one of the dumbest I’ve seen of late is that you can cure a food allergy by not eating that food for 6 weeks.  This is not only wrong but potentially fatal.  True food allergies (again, I’ll discuss what this means in a second) never go away; if someone has a true allergy to a food, they can’t ever eat that food again for all practical purposes.

Actually, that’s not entirely true, one weird study showed that children with peanut allergies could eventually get to where they could eat half a peanut but it took months and months of feeding them like 1/4 peanut to get them to that level.  Hooray.  For all practical purposes, a true food allergy never goes away and the idea that abstaining from that food will make it go away is simply absurd.

Since most food allergies occur in response to protein foods, I’m actually going to simply be excerpting the section from The Protein Book about food allergies and intolerances.  For anybody who’s interested, I’ve included the references cited in this section at the end of the article.

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