Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Fruit and Vegetable Cult

My blog abstract says I'll post on: "Canadian politics with digressions into international politics and anything else that seems relevant, interesting, amusing, or at the very least better than not posting at all," and, after some deliberation, I decided this post qualified (barely) for that last category.

Anyway, Marla Shapiro had a fairly routine article in the Globe and Mail today about rising obesity (she claims that 'fighting obesity is crucial to our society as a whole' - but if you ask me, given the coming demographic challenges, *not* fighting obesity might be our best bet - if we were only considered about the impact on society as a whole and not that on the individual people, but I digress).

I only bring it up (the article) because of the following paragraph,
"Fighting weight gain is simple math: The energy you take in (food and drink to fuel your body) must be offset by the energy you put out (through body activity and movement). It's no surprise that people who spend their leisure hours in a sedentary state are more likely to be obese, or that eating fewer fruits and vegetables correlates with weight gain."

The first sentence is, in my opinion, the first and last word on weight gain/loss. Want to gain weight? Take in more calories than you use during the day. Want to lose weight? Do the opposite.

The second sentence follows logically, if you use fewer calories, you'll trend toward increased weight.

But the third sentence is odd. It claims that if you consume fewer calories (eating fewer fruits and vegetables) then you will gain weight. Do fruits and vegetables contain negative calories? If not, then how does this sentence makes sense? Now, if it had been written, 'eating fewer fruits and vegetables and instead eating *more* other food will cause you to gain weight', then it would make sense. But you could also write that, 'eating less cheese and potato chips and instead eating *more* fruits and vegetables will make you gain weight' and it would make the same sense.

I'm sure there is a correlation between weight and fruit/vegetable consumption, but I suspect that is because the people who make the sacrifice of eating fruits and vegetables are more likely to be those who worry about health and fitness and stuff like that.

Anyway, I'm sure this post was pretty boring for everyone, but I just wanted to note how a received wisdom (the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables) can be so strong that it causes people to flat out contradict themselves / make no sense, even in the midst of an otherwise sensible, logical piece.

(or maybe I was just irritated by the title, 'Fat Chance of Being in Shape with Poor Eating Habits', given that I have terrible eating habits but am reasonably in shape, all the same.)


  • Declan, even when you're "boring"' you're interesting.

    By Blogger Janie For Mayor, at 2:51 PM  

  • her sentence was demented, yes, but fruit and veg consumption is advantageous cos they can contain a lot of fiber, which keeps you full, and because they are not empty (ie devoid of nutritional value) calories.

    be nice to the fruit and veg!

    By Blogger ainge lotusland, at 3:47 PM  

  • Thanka Timmy, more boring posts coming up! :)

    Ainge - yeah, I'm not denying that fruits and vegetables are (alas) healthy or have nutritional value.

    I'm not so sure about this 'some foods make you feel full' idea; I've never really noticed it myself. I figure its the calories that make you feel full, not anything else - but I'm no expert, especialy on the impacts of eating fruits and vegetables.

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:16 PM  

  • Declan,

    I think the sentence makes sense if and only if you flesh it out, and remove the unspoken assumptions.

    In full I think the thought is:

    A person needs X food per day. The fewer fruits and vegtables that make up that X, the more likely you are to gain weight (because it's hard to beat fruits & vegtables for healthy nutritional content).

    By Blogger Andrew, at 4:21 AM  

  • Close but no cigar.

    A person eats. The few fruits and vegetables then the more junk food. Ergo, weight gain.

    By Blogger Art Hornbie, at 9:12 AM  

  • Andrew - but even your full thought doesn't make sense to me. To me, only the total number of calories consumed affects weight gain/loss. The distribution between food groups is irrelevant, as is the healthiness or nutritional value of what you eat.

    That is, you can eat healthy, but if you eat a lot of healthy then you gain weight. And you can eat crap, but if you don't eat too much crap, you will lose weight.

    I could well be wrong, but I haven't seen a convincing argument yet.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:13 AM  

  • Hey Declan, your opinion of fruits and vege is improving. I remember you telling me a couple years back that fruits were nothing more than little balls of sugar... now they have (alas) healthy benefits. Perhaps, someday (OK, I'm reaching here), you may just yet look at a head of broccoli and say "Yeah, that looks good to eat."

    I think the full feeling you get is partially related to the volume of food you eat (I'm no doctor so don't quote me on it). The stomach can only hold so much food so if fruits and vege have fewer calaries per volume than junk food, it stands to reason that you'll gain less weight eating them. Like I said though, I don't know if it's true or not.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:54 PM  

  • squishy sugar, that's what I called fruit, and I stand by that assessment.

    as for the calories/volume theory, maybe there's something to it. I'm too lazy to look it up, that's for sure.

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:53 PM  

  • herbinator - sorry I missed your comment there, we must have posted almost simultaneously.

    Let me make myself clear. I could eat 100% junk food all the time and not gain weight (in fact, this is not that far off from describing my situation). Or I could eat 100% fruit and vegatables and quickly become obese. It just depends how much junk food / how much fruit and vegetables I eat. It's how much you eat, not what you eat - that's the working hypothesis anyway.

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:57 PM  

  • Ooo, a test. I love tests.
    OK, since you eat mostly non-fruits & vegetables you are saying that you will NOT lose weight by switching your diet over - even though you may strive to consume equal calories.

    I think even the thought of performing such a test is making you lose weight.

    But really, your logic is a tad specious - even though it is mainstream.
    SET refined sugars AND bulk carbohydrates AS addictive substance. => escalating over-consumption.
    SET raw fruits AND raw vegatables AS nutrition. => healthier state.

    Your logic of telling the addict to shoot-up less is the equivalent of stating simply don't eat as much.

    Eat better, and eat all you want. Weight is rarely a problem under these conditions.

    By Blogger Art Hornbie, at 9:04 AM  

  • have a metabolism that runs hot enough to burn up anything I eat would be fantastic! You're lucky.

    For the rest of us, we have to rev up our metabolism by exercising (increasing muscle mass increases metabolic rate) and have to ensure what calories we eat go to fuel not fat.

    "...eating fewer fruits and vegetables correlates with weight gain."

    The key word here is "correlates" -- statistically those who eat fewer fruits and veg weigh more.

    Fruits and veg, unlike french fries for example, are absorbed slowly by the body and are metabolized over a longer period of time. Slow sugar release into the body equals low insulin release to metabolize those sugars equals sugars being used as fuel. Fast sugar release (from those french fries) equals high insulin response equals a high feeling (aka sugar rush) and almost all those calories going into your fat stores and few going for fuel. Then you crash. Problem for most of us rich Westerners, the body does not like to let go of the fat in case we're going to be in a famine any time soon.

    So yes, if you have a metabolism like this, you'll lose weight by switching from junk to fruit and veg. You'll also have more energy. Exercise will get the body to cough out the fat from your cells. If you have an ectomorph metabolism, it probably won't make any difference. You just might be subclinically malnourished without those fruit and veg (small consolation for those of us with the famine gene!).

    By Blogger talk talk talk / Shireen, at 1:48 PM  

  • I agree that it's mostly calories consumed that determine how full you feel. However, I suspect that if you are deficient in certain types of food (eg. vitamins, calcium,iron, protein, fibre, fats, etc.), your body will crave the missing nutrients, and you may feel "hungry" even if you've consumed enough calories.

    So if you need 2000 calories per day, and the first thing you do is consume 2000 calories of junk food, you may find yourself with a craving for fruits or nuts or rice, and find yourself consuming more than the 2000 calories you need.

    By Blogger dejour, at 3:41 PM  

  • This is my third kick at the cat. Such effort I'm expending here.

    I don't believe that it is quite correct to say simply eating less is the solution. It is a little harsh.

    Obesity is a societal problem. Health correlates best with income and education. Obesity is essentially a representation of those who succumb to society's culture of consuming self-indulgence. Society could equally as well give the message that drinking alcohol is cool especially when depressed; or, smoking is the thing to do when feeling lonely or sad. The messages to consume are everywhere.

    Ectomorph??? Yeh, we're all different. If you don't get obese then maybe you'll get colitis instead. We all cope differently.

    By Blogger Art Hornbie, at 7:23 PM  

  • I was kidding using the word 'cult' in my title but I seem to have brought out the fruit and vegetable defenders in force! :)

    To summarize: Ainge & Shaun, are going with the theory that fruits and veg do a better job of preventing hunger than the equivalent fatty food.

    Meanwhile, Andrew, Dejour, Herbinator and TripleTalk are offerring various versions of the theory that deficiencies in fatty food will cause one to need to eat more (I guess this is really just the flip side of the coin) - either because you crave the missing nutrients or because your body stores the fat calories insead of using them or because fatty foods are addictive in and of themselves.

    I'm going to give TripleTalk the prize for the most convincing theory and for all I know my unanimous opposition could be right - but I still think people's judgement on this issue is clouded by a relexive 'fruits and vegetables good, fatty food bad' mindset.

    Aside #1: Everyone's different but personally I don't find fatty food all that addicting (compared to say caffeine) - I imagine that if I didn't always get hungry, I wouldn't eat at all.

    Aside #2: My girlfriend figures I probably get lots of fruit and veg supporters reading my blog because politically I am a vegetarian. Now while this is true in the literal sense (from a political perspective I think vegetarianism is a good idea, for the sake of animals, the environment and our own health), she meant it metaphorically: in the sense that my politics are of the kind which would generally be supported by vegetarians.

    Which is kind of af an odd generalization, but I think it's probably pretty accurate. I'm always kind of mystified about how such big clusters of seemingly unrelated ideas such as the proper fuctioning of markets, gay rights, diet, civil rights, support for warfare and on and on, seem to resolve themselves along a one (or maybe two) dimensional axis, not perfectly of corse, but more so than you (I) would expect.

    Aside #3 In the comments to the next post (so Cosmo says you're fat...) I was thinking abot how Coke designed it's bottle to mimic the 'ideal' female waist-hip ratio.

    In this one I'm thinking about how (almost) all fast food restaurants
    have red and/or yellow as their main colours because these are shown in studies to correlate with increased hunger. It might be time for a post on the role of advertising in society at some point.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:46 PM  

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