December 9, 2015
[0:00] Introduction/ Kimera Koffee
[2:45] Introduction to this Episode
[4:19] Jeff Wilser
[8:59] Why Green Tea Is Bad For Us
[14:16] About Vitamin Water
[17:29] Teeth Brushing
[20:08] Jeff's Cheese Hack
[22:24] When Would Happiness Actually Not Be Good
[27:32] Why Meditation May Not Be So Good
[36:06] Alcohol Consumption
[41:15] Drinking During Pregnancy
[47:53] The Effects of Pot
[58:40] Jeff's Experiment With Junk Food and The Results
[1:10:09] End of Podcast
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And now, on to today's show about things that you thought were good for you that are actually very bad for you.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“In the case of Vitamin Water, a bottle, which I think any rational person would think of as if you buy a bottle of water, that's kind of one serving of water right? Well according to that label, it was 2.5 servings. When you do the math, 2.5 servings at 35 grams of carbs per serving, so that's actually more than one serving of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream.” “University College of London looked at 10,000 kids, and they've tested the kids' cognitive abilities, and then looked at whether the mother was drinking lightly or not, and found no difference.”
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast.
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield, and I hope you're prepared to have your mind blown in today's podcast episode. You're going to learn about, for example, why green tea could be bad for you, why you shouldn't brush your teeth very much, why Vitamin Water has more carbs than beer, and basically why you should start using nicotine, having five or more drinks of alcohol every day, maybe taking up a marijuana habit, and also consuming copious amounts of coffee. These are all shocking claims and, frankly, facts that you'll find in a book that I'm actually holding right now, I'm holding a quite dog-eared copy of a brand new book that's come out. It's called “The Good News About What's Bad For You.” but then, and here's a cool trick, you flip over the book, and the other part of the book says “The Bad News About What's Good For You.” Yes, it's one of those two books in one type of things.
Anyways, the entire book was written by the guy who has joined me for today's podcast episode, Jeff Wilser. And Jeff is a writer who has written for a New York magazine, GQ, Esquire, Mental Floss, The LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post. He's all over the place. He's also written “The ManCave Book”, he's written “The Maxims of Manhood”, He's written “It's OK To Sleep With Him On The First Date”, which sounds quite interesting, and then of course this book, “The Good News About What's Bad For You”, and “The Bad News About What's Good For You”. Pay attention because you're going to learn a lot in today's episode. If, as you listen, you want to access the show notes or any of the goodies and the resources that Jeff and I discussed, or if you just want to go check out Jeff's book, then you can access the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/goodbad. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/goodbad. So, Jeff, welcome to the show, man.
Jeff: Thanks a lot! Great to be here, Ben.
Ben: I have a question for you, because this book is kind of unique. Like I mentioned, it's got “The Bad News About What's Good For You” on one side, “Good News About What's Bad For You” on the other side. Whose idea was it to create a book like this that's one of those books that you kind of like flip over and has that two-in-one type of approach?
Jeff: Yeah. It was kind of the publisher, Flat Iron, who is terrific. It was their conceit all along to really kind of poke a bit of fun at the facts, and also try and make sense out of the fact that every single week, there seems to be a new study, like, “Oh! Soy always good for you this week, then soy is bad. And fish is good, fish is bad. Sunshine's good, sunshine's bad.” It seemed like there was never any consensus, and things that you think of as bad, like alcohol, there's a study, “Oh! Alcohol is good for your heart.” And things you think of as good, like water. I mean, there are studies showing actually, too much water can kill you. So we kind of wanted to explore these strange paradoxes and try and make sense out of it.
Ben: Yeah and it's actually pretty shocking. I mean, when you go through it. You've got, not just some of the things that we'll talk about today regarding like food, and drink, and medicine, but I mean you've got freaking like apologizing and multitasking as good things that are actually bad for you. And then you've got other habits, I mean the book's table of contents is huge 'cause you cover a lot of things like bad habits that are good for you, like profanity, and messiness, and procrastination. I love the read. It was really fun. But I want to jump into a few of the topics that I know will really resonate with the folks listening in, and I figure we can just kind of jump right in if your game.
Jeff: That sounds great. One thing I should point out, and that globally, is that a lot of what we found in this book is not that things that are good for you are suddenly all bad, and things that are bad are suddenly good. So I'm not saying, “Oh! Suddenly, heroin's great!” That's not the conclusion at all, but there are things that we think of that are absolute awful things that might still be bad in real big quantities, but actually in moderation is not as bad as you think. So that was one kind of big takeaway we see across a lot of these different elements.
Ben: Yeah, and we'll get to this. Like you even note something about alcohol, like there's one study shows that you can drink like five or more drinks per day and get benefits, like there are some of these things where there's less moderation than you would think would be necessary. But one of these cases, for example, is green tea. You talk about green tea. That is listed in the section, that is “The Bad News About What's Good For You”. Why is green tea, something we all think is good for us, potentially bad for us?
Jeff: So the truth is green tea in a normal quantity that a non-stupid human being would drink is probably fine. So it's in moderation, green tea, it's often given heaps of praise on, “Oh! Green tea is going to trim the risk of heart attack, it'll lower the risk of Parkinson's, it'll strengthen bones.” Like every week, there's a new study saying how green tea is this super drink. And there is a lot of truth to that. Many studies have shown it has good qualities. There are kind of two catches. One catch is that in really extremely high quantities, there have been reports of one woman who went to the dentist and had to have her teeth yanked out because they became so brittle from too much green tea. In excess quantities, it can cause problems.
But, and really the more serious issue though is that one study found that a lot of what's on the market, and packaged, and sold as green tea isn't really the good stuff. It's often kind of sugary drinks packaged, and skinned, and made to seem like natural green tea. And so when you have kind of a large beverage company that normally makes soda, sometimes they'll have a green tea to look in thing that's really just sugary water, that's kind of as sugary as Coke. And so when it comes to those kind of green tea to look in things, that can trick us into thinking, “Oh! We're being really healthy.” And really, we're just drinking more soda.
Ben: Yes. It has green tea written on it, but like you talk about how Snapple has almost none of the compound called EGCG in it, epigallocatechin gallate, which is the prime oxidant in green tea. You buy Snapple and you think you're drinking something healthy, even when it's the diet stuff that doesn't have a ton of sugar, and maybe it's not going to kill you, but it also doesn't really have any of the green tea goodies that you think you're going to get. You also mention how Honest Tea is another brand that has 60% of the antioxidants that it actually claims.
Jeff: Right. I think this is a great example, because when we drink green tea, we think, “Okay. Yes! This is it. I am getting antioxidants. I am being healthy. I'm checking that box.” When in reality, it's probably not as good as it claims if it's one of these kind of non-natural green teas. And also, more broadly, it's not a panacea. We think, “Okay. If we're going to get this healthy drink, therefore we're being healthy.” And we might not really get to the roots of unhealthy behavior, which is maybe getting our butts off the couch. I'm guilty of that. I'll think, “Oh, okay. I'm doing this one healthy thing,” and it almost gives me a pass for just being a little lazy in other elements of life.
Ben: Yeah. It's a great logic table. Green tea, therefore no treadmill.
Jeff: Exactly. Yes. I'm sure there's a bumper sticker somewhere, or it should be. Love it.
Ben: Right, right. And of course, you do mention, and as you just pointed out, there are some headlines that will say something like, and I've seen these recently, that green tea concentrates fluorides in your body, and that fluorides, as we know they're great for your teeth, but there are some arguments out there that, like in Germany, they were used for mind control experiments, and they're bad for your nervous system, and all that jazz. But like you mentioned, you got to drink freaking copious amounts of green tea to get the actual fluoride content that a lot of these headlines say green tea is giving you.
Jeff: Right. And one reason, actually, this is in the book, is it's a bit of a gentle satire of a lot of the health headlines we see. If you just look at headlines, they'll take a one provocative mini-study or one very narrow anecdote where some one person is harmed by one thing, they say, “Oh my god! In this instance, green tea caused fluoride concentration.” Or it caused mysterious disease, fill in the blank. And we freak out and say, “Oh my god! That's horrible!” But that's not really the right takeaway. What we should be doing is putting it in context and saying, “Okay, what's your baseline risk of fluoride concentration in the first place and how much does it really kind of exacerbate that risk?” And realistically, probably not much. So again, just to clarify, the book it's not saying “throw out your green tea and never drink it”. No. It's probably on balance, especially the natural, honest to God green tea, if on balance, a good thing. But if we think though that if we just drink tons of it, buckets of it, suddenly this is our silver bullet to health, well, then not so much.
Ben: Yeah. And there's another beverage that you talk about in the book, and this is one that I see a lot of times at health conferences that I go to, and I'll go speak at an event or something like that and it's supposed to be marketed as a place where you're going to feel healthy and learn a message about health, and so they've got Vitamin Water at all the tables, or they've got like coolers full of Vitamin Water that they're handing out. You've got a little section on Vitamin Water. Can you fill us in on what's going on with Vitamin Water.
Jeff: Sure. I mean when you, and I'm sure a lot of your listeners who are quite savvy probably already know a lot of this, but when you hear the words Vitamin Water, you think, “Wow. Well, what's not to love? I like water. I like vitamins. That sounds great.” But at least when it was originally put out there in the world, the way I write in the book and the way I like to imagine this is marketing executives kind of sitting around, brainstorming, and like, “Okay. What can we call this thing?” And someone's like, “Maybe Sugar Water? Maybe Colored Water? Maybe Dye Water?” Because basically it's water that loads up sugar, at least, again, they've since had versions that are less sugary, but often, in many cases, things like Vitamin Water basically just add in things like carbs and sugar, and there might be scraps of vitamin in there, but those scraps of vitamin and nutrition are offset by the sugar. So often, you're better off with just regular water.
Ben: Tell me about the serving count in these things. The bottle says that it has, well like two or two and a half servings in it?
Jeff: Right. Yup, yup. The original Vitamin Water had 13 grams per serving, but this is the oldest…
Ben: 13 grams of sugar?
Jeff: Of sugar per serving. And oldest trick in the book, as your listeners know, is to just say, “Oh, there are actually four servings, or three servings.” In the case of Vitamin Water, the bottle, which I think any rational person would think of as if you buy a bottle of water that's kind of one serving of water. Well, according to that label it was 2.5 servings. When do the math, 2.5 servings at 13 grams of sugar per serving, well, now you're looking at 35 grams of, sorry, of carbs. So 35 grams of carbs. So that's actually more than one serving of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream. So one bottle of Vitamin Water…
Ben: In one bottle of Vitamin Water?
Jeff: Again, they have, I believe, some lower carb options. But I know, originally, Vitamin Water, and there are so plenty of brands who play this game of calling it vitamin, and then just dumping in carbs and sugar, and that 35 grams of carbs has more than in one serving of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream.
Ben: Yeah. That's crazy. The ice cream analogy shocked me. I didn't realize there's that much in vitamin water, along with all the food colorings and additives, I would definitely be on the same page as you that this would fall into “the good things that we think are good for us that are actually bad for us”. Related to the sugar though, you also talk about teeth brushing. And teeth brushing, amazingly, falls into the good thing that could be bad for you. Can you fill me in on that?
Jeff: Well, and just to clarify for my parents out there and friends, I do brush my teeth morning and night. I'm not saying that tooth brushing is a bad thing for someone to do. But the catch is when you brush your teeth after drinking something acidic, what could happen is that the brushing actually rubs the acid into your teeth. So it's certainly a great thing to brush your teeth. Please, again, do not stop brushing your teeth to be clear. But when people think, “Okay, I just had some orange juice. I better go and brush my teeth right away.” That can have the effect, I went to my dentist and I said, “Really? Is this true?” She's like, “Oh, absolutely. It's a really common misunderstanding that people think they should brush right away.”
The solution though is not to stop brushing altogether. It's about timing. And if you do need to brush your teeth after having something acidic, well then you could make sure you rinse your mouth a lot. Try and rinse out the acid, then brush the teeth.
Ben: Yeah. And it should be noted that there are some things that are considered alkalinizing foods, like kale, and lemons, and stuff like that that are indeed, they create, I think it's called an alkalinic ash, when you digest them in your body. So they're supposed to help your body not like leach minerals from your bone to restore alkalinity after you consume them. But when they're on your enamel in your teeth, they are not yet digested and they're still acidic. So if you like brush your teeth after you have like a kale smoothie with some lemon juice or something like that, you could still wear away enamel.
Jeff: Absolutely. In fact, there was a great article, I think first clued me into this issue about a couple of years ago, by Jennifer Berman in the New York Times. She was shocked that she was drinking all of these kale smoothies and kale juices, and she went to her dentist and the dentist said, “Oh, yeah. That kale's causing problems, and you brushing after the Kale is causing problems.” So it's yet one more paradox when we think we're being extra, extra healthy. Sometimes we are, and sometimes it backfires.
Ben: Yeah. And by the way, can you throw in your cheese hack that you talk about in the book?
Jeff: Oh, yeah! So your point about how different substances interact differently, cheese is one of those substances that neutralize the acid. And cheese will actually save the erosion of your enamel. So I thought, “Okay, I didn't know that. I bet a lot of folks don't know that cheese actually has a benefit for your smile and for your teeth.” So I think, “Okay. If I'm in the cheese industry, why not capitalize on this?” I think, there's a huge market campaign for a cheese company to talk about the benefits of cheese to our teeth. And so of course the tag line of this campaign is, “Say cheese”.
Ben: I love it. I love it.
Jeff: Kraft, you're welcome.
Ben: Or even like a sharp cheddar flavored toothpaste.
Jeff: Exactly. There is a marketing opportunity here somewhere. Definitely.
Ben: Yeah. And I personally brush my teeth once per day I wait until the evening and brush my teeth in the evening. Have you ever heard of coconut oil pulling? Like doing oil pulling through your teeth?
Jeff: I have heard of that. I haven't tried it myself.
Ben: Yeah. Me and my kids do that. It's supposedly very good for killing off viruses and bacteria, and cleaning out your teeth. You basically swish coconut oil in your mouth for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. And we do that, and we floss, and then teeth brushing, generally in our family, it's maximum of two times a day. But it wasn't until recently that I became aware of this enamel issue even with healthy food.
Jeff: Right, right! And also, as an aside, nighttime, dentist couldn't stress more that nighttime brushing is far more important than the morning brushing because, and this is something I kind of knew but never really thought about, that if you don't brush at nights, then your teeth have the next 8, 9, 10 hours of bacteria just kind of hanging out there. And my dentist, she calls it, there can be a bacteria party in your teeth. So it's much more important to get rid of that stuff in the evening than in morning.
Ben: Okay. You're throwing me softballs here for the segues because I also want to talk to you, speaking of parties, about happiness. Happiness is one of those things that we all hear is one of the holy grails of mental health. But you actually have it in “the good things that could be bad for you” section. When would happiness actually not be good?
Jeff: It's not that if you're happy, that's terrible. It's more that there have been some social scientists and psychologists who have done studies that suggest that when people explicitly really try and actually seek happiness, so when I say, “Geez. I'm not happy enough. I need to become more happy.” That actual pursuit tends to correlate with an overall less happy conclusion. So, I mean of course that's richly ironic on many levels, right? I think our founding fathers said something about the pursuit of happiness, but that actual pursuit, when we think, “Okay, I'm going to do some mission. I'm going to become happier.” That might be less effective than just kind of relaxing, and it's almost more of a, you could argue, eastern religion or [0:23:56] ______ of just being, as opposed to feeling we should be happier.
Ben: Okay. So is there a law of diminishing returns with happiness? Is that kind of what the argument is here?
Jeff: That is a related point, right? I think one argument is that the actual active, proactive trying to become happier almost causes anxiety, and we feel like we are not reaching some goal. So it's kind of how we frame it. If we're framing it as, “Ah! Man, I need to do this to make me happier.” You might get let down. And there's a second argument, which you're touching upon, diminishing returns of that happiness can also, when we are on a certain state of happiness, maybe we are less likely to be productive, or to think rationally. So, again, it's not saying “therefore let's all be miserable”, because there's plenty of bad to go around already.
Ben: Right. But at the same time, you also point out the fact that, you bring up the example of artists having tortured souls and how there are actually studies that show like this inverse relationship between happiness and creativity. Like maybe sometimes it's okay to not be happy if you're sitting down to like write, or paint, or something like that.
Ben: Exactly. And I think that's well-said, and that, I think part of the spirit of this book is not that any one issue, or food, or exercise is uniformly good or bad, but that almost all things in life have trade-offs. And it's useful at times to kind of sit down and think about those trade-offs. And one thing that's often confusing and how health is reported is one study might just trumpet news about one trade-off. They might, “Oh, aspirin suddenly makes you more likely to have heart attack,” or “Aspirin might actually cause some downside.” And so we look at only one of the part of the trade-off and not the whole picture. So back to happiness, it's not that happiness is a bad thing. It's often a good thing, obviously. But the fact in certain contexts, it could be not useful. If you are wanting to be creative and working, maybe you shouldn't beat yourself up that you're not feeling happy. There's a lot of great work that can come out of that place of darkness.
Ben: Yeah. And I like how you phrase it here where you quote a person who did a study on happiness and actually wrote, I believe, an article or book called “The Dark Side of Happiness”, and your quote says “meta-analytic data suggests that in very high intensity of happiness, people experience no psychological or health gains and sometimes they experience costs”. And then it also says that “other researchers found that when we are exuberantly happy, we're more likely to throw caution to the wind and make poor decisions”. So it's almost like too much happiness can take away our sense of realism and creativity potentially.
Jeff: Exactly. An example I have given in the book is let's imagine that you have a financial advisor, and let's imagine this financial advisor just won the lottery. Do you think she'll be in the best position to give you sound advice. She's probably so happy that…
Ben: Exactly. You want the very depressed, cynical financial adviser…
Ben: So speaking of which, kind of along the same veins as happiness, you also have a section on meditation and a meta-study done by the American Medical Association on it. Can you go into meditation, which is, by the way, you might get some hate mail here 'cause I meditate, and many of our listeners also meditate. So tread lightly.
Jeff: Here is my deep, dark confession. I too meditate, and I have a lot of a very positive things [0:28:02] ______. So I will not actually knock meditation because I am personally a believer. There have been gobs of studies that have shown legit benefits across a wide spectrum of health issues from psychological, to physiological, plenty of MRIs have scanned brains and found increased grey matters in different parts of the brain. So there's no question, there's a mountain of evidence suggesting meditation is a good thing. So I'm a believer personally.
That said, there are also some studies that find differently. There is one meta-study, which of course is one of the studies that just looks at many other studies and kind of combines all the results, and tries to tease out some insights, and over these 47 different trials and 3,000 people, this study found “low evidence of improved quality of life” and “low evidence to no effects on positive mood, eating habits, sleep, and weight loss”. So, again, I would not tell anyone who enjoys meditation and gets value out of it to stop doing it. I think that's crazy. But for those out there, let's say there's someone who for whatever reason, has never gotten into it and they're constantly being badgered by their Brooklyn friends, like me, “You got to meditate. You got to meditate.” Well, here's a data point they can use to rebut that. Say, “Some studies say not so much.”
Ben: Yeah. And the other thing was blood flow. I thought it was quite interesting. You talk about this Dr. Newberg who studied blood flow to the brain during meditation and actually found that in a part of the brain called the superior parietal lobe, which governs spatial relationship, that there was actually a decline in blood flow, which gives me pause about meditating before I, say, like go do an obstacle race or something like that where spatial recognition is quite important.
Jeff: Right. I think it's a great point. I think it's important to put this in perspective and in a context. And when I spoke to Dr. Newberg, he said, “Yes, there are cases, because in extreme cases, think back. The idea of meditation is, in some respects to kind of get out of your sense of self, and you almost want a different orientation of spatial relationships. And taking too it's kind of radical extreme in that moment, it disorients people. I don't think there's evidence suggesting that, okay, an hour later, you're unfit to drive a car or operate heavy machinery. I think this is in fairly extreme cases that is not a widespread problem most folks have to worry about.
Ben: Right. But it is interesting to perhaps equip those who do not really jive well with meditation, or who don't want to jump on the meditation bandwagon, like you mentioned, they do have a little bit of ammo here. And in “the bad news about what's good for you”, you get into more. You've got the dark side of everything from standing desks, to ball chairs, to even college degrees in there. And so there's quite a bit more, and again, go just read the book if you want some of that stuff. But I want to talk to you also, Jeff, about some of the good news of what's bad for you, and if I can rapid fire a few at you, would you be up for that?
Jeff: Let's do it. Absolutely.
Ben: Okay. Nicotine. The ball's in your court. Go.
Jeff: Okay. So first off, first thing I'll say is no one should start smoking. I have to result to this. There's no one I talk to, no health expert, that say, “Yay! Smoking!” So that said, nicotine itself, not as part of a cigarette, but nicotine itself could have properties that is useful for triggering certain receptors in the brain that might lower the risk of Parkinson's disease. And this is not just one crazy doctor who has a theory, actually there are certain nicotine patches that are being used in clinical trials right now to try and curb the risk of Parkinson's. In fact, the Michael J. Fox Foundation is funding a study using nicotine patches.
Ben: Yeah. I've seen the evidence of nicotine patches for some of these things as far as, for example, decreasing your addictive potential for things like cigarettes, et cetera. But I've also seen folks talk about the use of nicotine for enhancing cognitive performance and actually by helping the brain. What have you seen as far as that goes?
Jeff: Yeah. I think that the evidence on that minor standing is that is mixed right now, that there is potential evidence, it does have a beneficial cognitive impact, I don't think is conclusive. I think there's a stronger scientific case at the moment that nicotine could be useful for preventing cognitive decline. In most of these studies, it's often the elderly crowd that is involved in these and where they're worried about dementia, and Parkinson's. I think there's more evidence nicotine can help prevent those problems.
Ben: Yeah. I've actually, when I've been at, for example, Walgreens or CVS before, just based on the bits and pieces here and there I've seen about like nicotine and cognitive performance, or nicotine and dopamine, I've thought about grabbing some of the Nicorette gum or something, or one of the nicotine patches. I haven't yet. But seeing it in your book made me think about that again, about how nicotine is something that I think we've tended to shove under the bus because it has so much associate with cigarettes, when in fact, it's all the other carcinogens in cigarettes that we actually need to be worried about it.
Jeff: It's a worthwhile question that if it's true that it does blunt cognitive decline, and I think there also is evidence, certainly in animals and rats, that there is cognitive benefit. I wonder, just theoretically, if there was not the stigma of cigarettes, and if it was not, and not more than a stigma. Obviously, it's awful in cigarettes. But if we could parse out the nicotine and the benefits of nicotine from the wretched delivery system of cigarettes and the carcinogens, is there worthwhile research there and is there a potential benefit to society? It's possible.
In full disclosure, one thing that neuroscientist I spoke to about this, I asked her this very question of, “Oh, so is it going to help like my brain?” ‘Cause, obviously, I need help. So I asked her that. And she said, “Well, let me put it this way. I go to a neuroscientist convention every year and none of us are wearing nicotine patches.” So she was saying, “Alright. Maybe there's something here, but I wouldn't go out there and go crazy yet.”
Ben: Yeah. Well, folks, if you're listening in and you happen to be somebody who uses a nicotine patch, or a nicotine gum, or something like that, and have found it to be useful for cognitive performance, I'd be curious to see your comments on that. So go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/goodbad and leave us a note in the comments section 'cause it'd be interesting to hear from those of you who perhaps have experimented with nicotine and found cognitive benefit.
Okay. Alcohol, Jeff. Alcohol. You actually have a section in the book where you mentioned a relatively high amount of alcohol consumption as maybe not being bad for you, and you have quite a few little anecdotes about alcohol. What are some of the biggest takes that you've found in writing this book when it comes to alcohol consumption?
Jeff: Okay. The thing that really surprised me the most is how little it seemed to matter, whether we're talking about wine, or beer, or whiskey, or gin, or vodka. We've probably all heard the kind of saying, “Oh! Red wine is good for your heart!” And so usually when we hear that, at least in my experience, it's usually at a dinner party and some guy says that, kind of like smugly, when they're pouring a bottle of red wine like he's in on some secret. And so we kind of think like it's one of those things that maybe, but not really. There's no way alcohol can be good for us right. So I have, like I'm sure all of your listeners have heard that “red wine is good for your heart”, and we might believe that or we might not. I was surprised to find the consensus in the health community, not universal certainly, but certainly a broad, more than just friend's doctors, but legit bodies, scientific communities saying that “Actually, yes. Many, many studies have shown links between longer lifespans and alcohol consumption.”
And of course, now we can get the weeds here about, “Okay. Does link mean causation? If you drink more, are you more likely to live longer?” That's debatable, right? So the counter to this is, “Well, maybe people who have disposable income to buy red wine or to buy whiskey, perhaps they tend to make more money. Therefore, they have better access to health care. Therefore, they are healthier in the first place.” Right? So that's one argument. The other argument to that is that, “Well, actually, there's one very clear impact alcohol can have, and that's thinning your blood and making us less likely to have clots and heart attacks.” So the real difference between in life spans between the drinkers and nondrinkers when they do these kind of observational studies is that there are less heart attacks in folks who drink moderately. And that's why, according to the experts I spoke to, it doesn't really matter whether it's red wine, or white wine, or beer, or vodka, or whiskey. The biggest health benefit of alcohol is the fact that it's alcohol, which kind of floored me.
Ben: Yeah. And I love the study that you cite in Denmark where they looked at 12,000 people, and they split them into four groups. They looked at the people who exercised and drank, the people who exercised and didn't drink, the people who didn't exercise and drank, and then the people who didn't exercise and didn't drink. And they found that the unhealthiest group was not the group that didn't exercise and drink, but the group that didn't exercise and didn't drink was the unhealthiest group, and then the healthiest group was the folks who exercised and also drank moderately.
And I've actually, I've cited, and I believe it was a few months ago on a podcast, the study that shows that the majority of the benefits that you derive from red wine, the majority of the heart health benefits you derive from red wine only are there if combined with physical activity. Meaning that you really only get the heart health benefits of red wine if you also lead an active lifestyle.
Jeff: And that's one of those, one of my favorite parts, favorite, and I mean that kind of sarcastically, favorite and like ridiculous thing about health studies is how two weeks from now, I'm sure there'll be a different study showing something that kind of contradicts that of how perhaps you have to have five hours of running to have it kick in. Who knows? To your point, the goal of this Denmark study was to try and isolate that variable of drinking. Because often, as we were saying earlier, there's a selection bias, and people who, there's often a third variable, right. If we're looking at, okay, drinking and lifespan, they'd say, “Oh! People who drink live longer.” Well there's probably something, what they call lurking variables, other variables out there that explain things, like exercise. Well this Denmark study, they said, “You know, even for people who exercise,” so those exercisers who drink versus exercisers who don't drink, drinkers are healthier. They suggest that there is more going on to this than just selection bias, than just correlation. It's really interesting.
Ben: Yeah. And, to open Pandora's box, you don't just stop with health. You get into pregnancy and drinking, and what you wrote in here was actually the first time I've ever seen much when it comes to the other side of drinking in pregnancy, and how perhaps drinking during pregnancy could possibly be okay. And I know that you're not a doctor, I know no one is to misconstrue this as medical advice, any woman out there listening right now, speak with your physician, or whichever medical professional is in charge of your pregnancy before acting on anything you're about to hear and taking few shots of whiskey. But can you get into what you talk about when it comes to drinking during pregnancy, Jeff?
Jeff: Yeah. Again, I want to echo your disclaimer. The first thing I say on this topic is I am a man who is not a doctor, so I probably should not be giving advice on this. But in the interest of exploring some kind of surprising paradoxes, there have been studies, especially in the UK and Europe that just look at the actual facts of, “okay, is there a correlation between light drinking and pregnancy”. Again, we're not talking hitting the bottle hard, but light drinking and then any kind of cognitive development issues with young children. And the concern [0:42:41] ______, one of which is that this would impair cognitive development.
And Professor Yvonne Kelly of University College of London looked at 10,000 kids, or a study of 10,000 kids and they tested the kids' cognitive abilities, and then looked at whether the mother was drinking lightly or not, and found no difference in any kind of behavior or testing. And other studies found similar thinks, that when you look at kind of whether there is any risk of developmental issues amongst mothers who are light drinkers, or not they found no difference. And the interesting thing is that there's no incentive for anyone to promote this because there's no upside. Like there's no upside for the author of the study, there's no upside for society, there's no upside for the mother or for the baby really, right?
Ben: Even Bud Light has no pregnancy specific alcohol drink.
Jeff: Not yet. Not yet, they don't.
Ben: Bud Baby coming soon.
Jeff: Yes. Bud Baby. Love it. And even in studies I've seen, in one case the researcher actually was so taken aback by his results, she almost apologized for them. I have her quote right here. So that, “I really think we should recommend abstaining during pregnancy. I really believe that even a glass of wine now and again is damaging.” So this is the author of the study that found there was no relationship between light drinking and adverse health issues with the young children. She'd said, “Well, the facts in my study shows it's not an issue, but I personally don't really think you should do this.” So one thing I will note though, just anecdotally, and I'm sure many of your listeners have heard similar things, Europe has a very different standard than the US in this. I have friends who have been told by their French doctor, “Oh, sure! A glass of wine is fine after the first trimester.” So I think that we have a very different culture about this, for better or worse, in the US than and many other parts of the world.
Ben: Yeah. But I still think it's quite interesting because my wife actually did partake in the occasional glass of wine while pregnant, and I think it's very interesting that you mentioned the study. I believe this was the one done at the University College in London where they did a study of 10,000 kids and they split them into groups based on whether the mother drank, albeit, lightly during pregnancy, like one or two drinks per week or abstained completely, and they found zero difference.
Jeff: Exactly. This is kind of getting back to optics and perception, right. And there's almost two questions. There is a substance of the issue and the perception of the issue. And it might, just again, now I'm just talking my own personal theory here, but it's very possible, and I think plausible, and maybe even probable, that it's true that one or two drinks a week has all the way no impacts. Let's just pretend for a moment that's absolutely true. Let's pretend for a moment that the health community might be okay with everyone believing that, but it's so easy to imagine people misconstruing that the other direction saying, “Oh, okay. If one or two drinks is okay, then I'm sure one glass of wine a day is fine, or two a day is fine.” It's a slippery slope.
So my guess is that it's for pure simplicity and caution. It's easier to have a blankets message of zero tolerance just to make sure no one abuses that as opposed to a more nuanced, but arguably more honest message that actually after the first trimester light drinking is okay. Don't overdo it. To me, it seems very plausible that the powers that be decided, “You know, that more nuanced policy, while technically true, might not have the best health outcome when you get to the messiness of real life.” Because people who are not like your wife, people who are not appreciating moderation, might go the other way.
Ben: Yeah. I hear you. And I grew up in North Idaho, attending demolition derbies and rodeos, and I remember I would be out at the fairgrounds at these things and there would be pregnant women walking around with wine coolers all over the place. And I guarantee there were also a lot of young redneck kids running around who definitely had some cognitive deficits going on. I don't know if there's a link, but I do know that there's…
Jeff: There might be some correlation and causation right there.
Ben: Yeah, definitely a law of diminishing returns going on, which brings me to my next topic, and that is pot. You've got a section on pot, and actually last month on the show, we had a couple episodes about whether or not marijuana could shrink your brain. And we did find that perhaps that that particular claim is a little more blown out of proportion than what we've traditionally thought, but what did you find when it comes to pot?
Jeff: Well, I think that the one issue really explored in the book is, okay, we've all heard the countless ways that pot can be beneficial, right. So we've heard about how it can help with various diseases, and conditions, and…
Ben: Epilepsy, and seizures, and stuff. Although, granted, I should note that's more of the CBD than the THC in pot, from what I understand.
Jeff: Right, right. But what's was interesting is now is almost the pendulum has gone so far. Ten years ago when pot was in the news, it was always portrayed negatively. I think in the past 5, 10 years, it's mostly kind of good news about it. So I kind of what the other way and said, “Alright. Well, actually is there bad news about the good news of pot.” And the one area we looked at was how does it change the brain in adolescents, and what the neuroscientist I spoke, to Dr. Gilman from Harvard, her research found, “Okay. Actually, there is a change in the actual shape of the brain, and there is an impact, and suggests that it could become physiologically more addictive.” And that's something that I don't think we all appreciate.
And again, I don't at all have any advice one way or the other about use it, don't use it at all. But I think it's worth at least exploring that it's not like many things in the book and all of health. It's not universally positive or negative, good or bad. Most things have trade-offs. Even happiness has a trade-off. So it shouldn't be surprising that pot, while on balance, which might have many positive attributes, could also have some negative ones too.
Ben: Yeah. And I do think that it does change the grey matter, it does change the amygdala. You actually mention in the book the two key regions of the brain that this MRI found that changed was the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala. And I've found, because I was clean as a whistle most of my life when it comes to everything from marijuana, to alcohol, to coffee and it's only been in the last half dozen years or so that I've really kind of started using more recreational drugs, and drinking a glass of wine per day, et cetera. I've actually found, since pot became legalized in my state, when I do use it I actually do experience a little bit of like cognitive slowing the next day when it comes to, especially memory, like short term memory. But at the same time, my creativity is off the hook and my stress is extremely low. So there are some definite trade-off.
I guess this would be one of those situations where you pick your poison based off of what your goals are, and if you're about to go speak on stage with some kind of a presentation that you had to commit to memory, you probably shouldn't go near the stuff. But if you're, this would be an example for myself, I'm writing a chapter in a work of fiction, then I'm willing to trade off a little bit of short term memory the next day in order to unlock the powers of creativity or to decrease stress. So, yeah. It's really interesting. But, yeah. It's one of those things where you can't paint with a broad brush, or say it's black and white.
One other thing, one other vice I want to talk about before we delve into your fascinating junk food experiment, and that is coffee. And, of course, coffee is taking the world by storm right now, not that it wasn't popular before, but now we've got like Bulletproof coffee, and smart drug coffee, and I was listening to a podcast this morning where they're now doing, speaking of pot, a sativa-based marijuana coffee in Colorado. So what is the deal, granted not talking about smarter coffee or pot coffee, but just coffee, plain old mud. What have we found when it comes to coffee?
Jeff: Years ago, there was the concern in the health community that coffee could really be a risk in cardiovascular diseases. “Oh, if you have too much coffee, you might have heart attacks.” That was kind of a concern in yesteryear. And as the Mayo Clinic says, the new studies have found no correlation between coffee and increased risk of cancer, or heart disease. I think it's fair to say that has been largely debunked, unless we're talking about crazy, crazy, crazy amounts of coffee where you're pounding Joe all day long. Then, perhaps, different story. So the big concern they used to have of heart disease has been largely put to bed.
Ben, so if you kind of take that off the table, there are benefits. There have been all kinds of studies of coffee's positive impacts on cognitive functions, so again, maybe that coffee and nicotine one-two punch right there. And as far as improvements on memory, there are plenty of observational studies that link coffee with longer lifespans. Again, there are studies that perhaps less, you could always argue those big studies saying, “Oh, looking at 30,000 people who drink coffee versus 30,000 that don't because, again, there is correlation versus causation. But I think it's fair to say that the majority, certainly a good chunk of the research out there, gives coffee a thumbs up, which is interesting because people think of coffee as vice. Thing is, “Oh! I should cut down on coffee.” “I should quit coffee.” “I should like try and go off coffee.” To me, that makes as much sense as saying I should cut down on broccoli. Like coffee has been generally shown to have very positive benefits in moderation. Yes, caffeine is a drug. But I don't know that all drugs are uniformly bad. I think there are good drugs and bad drugs.
Ben: Many people think that moderation is one cup a day. But, for example, you say that in the Harvard study where they looked at 200,000 adults, they found that people who drink two to four cups a day were 50% less likely to kill themselves, which, I guess, perhaps your health concerns go above and beyond whether or not you're going to kill yourself, but granted there's that. And then they also found…
Jeff: I'm sorry. I've…
Ben: Oh, go ahead.
Jeff: I've entered some meetings where if I didn't have coffee, I would kill myself. So I think that study make sense to me.
Ben: That is true. I've had those mornings where you wouldn't want me holding a butter knife until I've had my cup of coffee. And then there was also the one where you found that in those who drink three cups per day, the risk of dying decreased by 10%. So for those people who are maybe convinced that if you drink anything more than one cup a day, you're suddenly going to be up there when it comes to, whatever, risk of death, or heart disease, or whatever else. It looks like you may be able to get away with a little bit more. I would like to, though, throw out a couple of caveats.
Number one, I know a lot of hard charging athletes listen in. Athletes who are using like perhaps energy drinks, or caffeine infused sports drinks, or gels during their competitions or their workouts, or who are simply causing themselves to release a lot of cortisol and a lot of adrenaline from things other than coffee. And I've seen in some of those folks that excess coffee, even one cup a day, can potentially create some signs and symptoms of adrenal issues, adrenal fatigue if you're already a very hard charging person. And then the other caveat I want to throw in there, and this is something that I've found for myself when experimenting with a no coffee diet, if you ever have gut issues, sometimes going coffee free for a little while can help to alleviate some stress, basically acidic stress from your gut. So people with gut issues or hard charging athletes, maybe you would still do better with one a day. That's at least my take on it.
Jeff: Yeah. That's a great point. And it's really worth kind of flushing it out that so many of these studies, like looking at 50,000 people, two different groups tend to wash out and dilute the impact on more specific contexts, like the hard charging folks who you describe. So I think that one whenever we see a study, and the book goes into this as well, whenever we see a study that's talking about this big, globby average.
So the average person has a plus or minus 10% of whatever, within that plus 10%, or minus 10%, I guarantee you there are plenty of sub-segments that might act differently. And that's one of the really challenging things about health studies, or any scientific study really, is that and in any data set, you're going to have pockets that act differently. So it's difficult, and I actually came out of this book with a deeper respect for the health experts and the scientists who do these studies because it's really hard to paint or to create a recommendation, or a guideline when you have so many variables at play, like the ones you describe.
Ben: Yeah. And in this section of the book “good news about what's bad for you”, you go into a lot more. You go into everything from ecstasy, to profanity, to other forms of alcohol we didn't talk about. And, yes, even chocolate, I was pleased to see, falls into the “good news about what's bad for you” section. So again, check out bengreenfieldfitness.com/goodbad if you want to learn more about Jeff or check out this book. But, Jeff, there is one fascinating n=1 experiment that you have in the book and that is your experiment with junk food. What did you do with junk food?
Jeff: Well, the premise of this is that we often get very obsessed with what type of food we're eating, with the quality of our food. “Oh, should I have like whole grain pasta versus regular pasta?” “GMO or non-GMO?” “Am I having enough antioxidants in my food?” And these are all fair questions, all good questions for sure. But we're often so wrapped up in kind of the back and forth of health fads that sometimes we lose sight of the big picture. And the way I kind of frame it in this section of the book is there's really two variables when it comes to food. There's quality and there's quantity. There's what kind of food is it and how much are you eating. So we focus a lot about the quality, but not much on the quantity. So what I did for 30 days, I said, “Alright. Screw it. I'm going to have this ridiculous experiment that will really try and focus on the quantity, not the quality. For 30 days, I'll it only four food groups.” The four food groups were junk food, black coffee, protein shakes, and whiskey. That's important. The whiskey is a very key food group.
Jeff: So I had no bread, no meat, no vegetables, no fruit, no legumes, just junk food, protein shakes, black coffee, and whisky. And in those 30 days, two things happen. One thing, I lost 11 pounds. And the second thing, my…
Ben: Okay. I'm going to stop you right there before you get to the second thing.
Ben: Do you know if it was muscle or fat that you lost?
Jeff: I did also check and I measured my body fat percentage and body fat went down. So I lost some muscle, but mostly fat. So certainly some muscle is lost. No question of that. But the overall body fat went in the right direction.
Ben: Okay. Got it. And then what was the other thing?
Jeff: Other thing, bad cholesterol went down and good cholesterol went up. So I went to doctors before and after, and got a kind test of all blood metrics and all that kind of stuff. So the one catch here, the one very important asterisk is that I ate everything in moderation. So if I had Oreos for breakfast, I'm like, “Okay. Oreos. Serving size: three Oreos.” So I have three Oreos. If I'm having Cheez-Its, I would have one serving size, 27 Cheez-Its. And by the way, I can now, after 30 days of this, I would go to the grave knowing the serving size of Cheez-Its and interesting Cracker Jacks. So it was kind of hilarious, and that I also had to be, I live my life during this. So I was out with friends, I was on a date, it's kind of awkward to be on a date at a restaurant and having to eat like a Snickers bar as opposed to real food.
Ben: But for those 30 days, you did a 2,000 calorie a day intake, more or less?
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. And by the way, did you choose that calorie intake based off of general recommendations or based off of your metabolic rate, like what you thought you were actually burning each day?
Jeff: Exactly. Based on my own profile. Yup.
Ben: Okay. So you have like your resting metabolic rate and you're trying to eat enough calories to satisfy that without undercutting calories too much, but of course more notably doing it all with junk food?
Jeff: Right. I think actually shot for a net of eighteen hundred, and I still exercised in the same way I usually did. And so if I went running for four miles, I would say, “Okay. That's 400 calories,” or whatever it was. And so alright, for this day, I'm allowing myself to eat twenty two hundred calories because I went running. So I would kind of, the goal was net caloric intake of eighteen hundred. I should also say this is, you mention that the sample size of n=1. That's sort of true.
I should mention that's inspired by a professor of nutrition at Kansas State University named Dr. Mark Haub, and he was kind of the godfather of this, and he had an even more dramatic impact. He, for 10 weeks, I believe, he did this, he called it the gas station diet, and lost 27 pounds. His point to a students was, “Hey! Health news and nutrition gets very complicated very quick, and there's whole,” as you know, Ben, there's holy wars of paleo, and plants, and fat versus carbs, and there's so much nuance and debates in the world of health. What he wanted to show is that's all fair game, but at the end of the day when it comes to weight gain or loss, and not overall health, when it comes to weight gain or loss, calories in, calories out is still a very useful maxim.
Ben: Yeah. And I like the way that you phrase it when you get to the end, when you get your results. But before we get into that, what were the final results after the 30 days?
Jeff: Yeah. So again, lost 11 pounds, and I will also, in full disclosure, when I went to the doctor for my official weigh in at the end, he put me on a scale, looked at his clipboard, and did a double take, said, “Wait, wait. 11 pounds?” And the words out of his mouth were, “That is not healthy.” So to be very clear and in the interest of intellectual honesty here, I'm not claiming this is a great way to get healthy. I would certainly not advise anyone to do this. This is a really dumb diet. This is kind of a goofy experiment to kind of prove, or at least add evidence to the idea that the amount of food we eat is as important, if not more important, than the quality, and moderation is such a powerful force that it can kind of keep us out of trouble when it comes to our weight gain, even if the food we're eating is crap. So it's not to extol the virtues of junk food. Like junk food is bad for you. Junk food is, usually not eating more of that, but if we worry less about, “Oh, jeez. Are these blueberries, did I get the right, do they have any GMOs here?” It might be that concerns over the nuance of health, some of that might be less important than just the very basics of just how much we're eating.
Ben: Yeah. Absolutely. Are you familiar with this gal named Denise Minger at all, or have you heard of her?
Jeff: Know of her. Go on.
Ben: Okay. I recently published a podcast with her in which she goes into years and years of really compelling research that folks like Nathan Pritikin and, I believe Ancel Keys was involved with some of this research, and Esselstyn, and it goes into how folks who are eating diets comprised of enormous amounts of sugar, and starch, and juice, et cetera, they actually experience, assuming that caloric balance or caloric deficits are present, very surprising drops in weight and very significant positive changes in the risk for heart disease, and diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. And her argument with this is that not only do calories count to a certain extent, but also that there is this equation called the Randall equation, some biochemical equation that dictates that, for example, if your diet is comprised of 90% plus sugar, you actually shift towards a very efficient utilization biochemically of sugar by the human body, like you very, very efficiently digest, process, shove into muscle to be stored as glycogen, et cetera sugar.
Of course my take on that is that, well, perhaps weight loss isn't everything. Like maybe right want to look at the long term, whatever, then the neural or the hormonal health effects. But I like the way that you end that section in your book. You say, “Crap isn't the enemy. Excess is the enemy.” And I think that that's kind of a perfect kind of full circle wrap-up of your whole book and everything. In many cases, it's excess of these good things or these bad things that winds up being bad for you. But I really think you did a good job with this book, man. Thank you for writing it.
Jeff: Ben, thanks a lot. You know your stuff, so I really appreciate the comment. Thanks very much. Means a lot to me.
Ben: Yeah. And folks, again, if you're listening in and you want to go grab this book for yourself and give it a read, wonderful little coffee table/toilet book, whatever. It's one of those books that's fun to read. Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/goodbad where you can see Jeff's profile, other books he's written as well as this one. And if you do that, I guarantee you'll have a nice little read to get you through the holidays this season. So that's bengreenfieldfitness.com/goodbad. Or perhaps it'd make a good gift for someone in your life. Jeff, thanks so much for coming on the show and sharing this stuff with us.
Jeff: My pleasure, Ben. I really enjoyed it. Thanks a lot.
Ben: Alright, folks. Well this is Ben Greenfield and Jeff Wilser signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
You’ve been listening to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast. Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com for even more cutting edge fitness and performance advice.
Prepare to have your mind blown…
Green tea is bad for you.
You shouldn’t brush your teeth very much.
Vitamin Water has more carbs than beer.
And you should start using nicotine, five or more than drinks per day, marijuana and copious amounts of coffee.
These are all shocking claims made by the book “The Good News About What’s Bad for You…The Bad News About What’s Good for You.” and written by today’s podcast guest, Jeff Wilser.
Jeff is a writer whose work has appeared in print or online at places like New York magazine, GQ, Esquire, Mental_Floss, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Huffington Post. In addition to the book that we talk about in this podcast – The Good News About What’s Bad for You…The Bad News About What’s Good for You – Jeff has also written The ManCave book, The Maxims of Manhood, It’s OK To Sleep With Him On The First Date, and more.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-When green tea can be bad for you (and shocking news about Snapple)…
-Which version of water has more calories than Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream…
-The absolute worst time of day to brush your teeth (and what kale smoothies have to do with that)…
-Why being happy all the time and meditating may not be all it’s cracked up to be…
-The surprising benefits of nicotine…
-The part of the population that should absolutely drink alcohol…
-Why limiting yourself to one cup of coffee a day may not be the best thing…
-The beneficial ways that marijuana changes your brain…
-What happened when Jeff went on a 30 day junk food diet…
-And much more!
Do you have questions, comments or feedback about good things that are bad for you, or anything else Jeff and I discuss in this podcast? Leave your thoughts below and one of us will reply (and grab Jeff’s book here).
This episode is brought to you by:
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