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Western Carbs in Thailand

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Skytrain Food Stall

Skytrain food stall

One of the changes that I’ve seen over my travels to Thailand, which commenced in 1992, is the increasing availability of Western-style baked goods. Donuts, croissants, cakes, white bread, cookies and similar food items can now be found at every mall, at most (even local) markets and, as in these pictures, at nearly every Skytrain stop. It’s not just baked goods: there is also a proliferation of Western fast food places, such as Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger king; I should include Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme, as well.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Baked Goods

Western baked goods

This February (2011) when I was in Thailand I had an errand to run at Siam Paragon, a popular (and trendy) shopping center in Bangkok. When Kasma and I arrived, we saw a line of perhaps 30 or 40 people going out the door of the entrance. We were curious about what the people were lining up for; it turned out to be a Krispy Kreme donut shop. When we left the mall a couple hours later, the line was even longer. We saw several people with huge boxes of donuts walking away from the store.

Traditional Thai snacks are basically very healthy foods. Although they can be quite sweet, many of them are less sweet or are savory and they nearly universally include an ingredient that is quite healthy. For instance, Kanom Krok (Grilled Coconut Hotcakes) include coconut milk (a “functional” food that includes immune-system boosting Lauric Acid); Sangkaya (Coconut Egg Custard) includes both coconut milk & duck eggs; and Kao Niow Dtam (Black Sticky Rice Pudding) includes healthy, whole-grain black rice. Certainly Thai snacks with all empty calories exist but most of them include healthy ingredients such as coconut milk, pumpkin (or squash) or cassava root. (See my blogi on Thai (Sweet) Snacks – Kanom Wan

Baked Good Close-up

Close-up of baked goods

So the proliferation of Western baked goods is unfortunate because it replaces snacks that at least have some health benefit with goods made almost exclusively of white flour and sugar, which are basically empty calories that take more nutrition to process than they actually provide. See my recent blogs on A “Healthy” Diet and Thai Diet Changes for some of the references and information that indicate excessive carbohydrates are a major health issue.

These pictures show a few examples of the type of stalls that are becoming prevalent all over Thailand. It is almost certainly no coincidence that the mortality rate from heart disease is rising in Thailand at the same time.


See also Michael’s blogs or articles on:


Written by Michael Babcock, July 2011

Thai Diet Changes

Michael Babcock, Monday, February 14th, 2011

Like any country in the modern world, the traditional diet in Thailand is undergoing some change. I recently came across an article in The Nation, one of the two main English-language newspapers in Thailand, titled Heart disease the biggest killer. Here are the main points:

Donuts

Donuts in the Mae Hong Son Market

“Heart disease is killing more Thais, and the only way to reduce the risk is to control weight, exercise and develop good eating habits, Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanawisit warned yesterday. He said the mortality rate of heart disease in Thailand was 2.6 per cent, compared to 4.9 per cent in other countries, and the consumption of alcohol, smoking as well as eating excessive fat, sugar and salt were all contributing factors.”

The gist: heart disease mortality is lower in Thailand than other countries but it is increasing.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

If the rate is going up, my first thought is to look at how the diet has been changing. The most visible change that I see on my travels, is that each year I see more and more Western-style desserts and breads around. The other visible change is I now see soy oil sold everywhere – shelf-after-shelf in the supermarkets and vendors in many open-air markets selling soy oil in plastic bags (exposed to the sun). More and more restaurants appear to be using soy oil, relatively cheap compared to traditional oils such as palm oil, coconut oil and the animal fats. There has also been a proliferation of convenience stores selling processed foods (rather than traditional kanom or snacks) along with Western sodas and heavily-sugared fruit drinks.

Cake House

Cakes for sale in Bangkok

If the Thai people are eating more and more refined carbohydrates and replacing traditional, healthy fats with vegetable oil, it is no surprise that heart disease rates are going up; after all, this is exactly what happened in the United States during the 1940s & 1950s when heart disease rates soared as animal fat consumption went down and vegetable oil consumption went up. Sugar (a highly refined carbohydrate) consumption was going up at the same time.

One reason for the change in fat consumption (from traditional more saturated fats to soy oil) in Thailand is that the medical establishment is very aggressive in pushing the so-called “heart healthy diet,” which recommends limiting fat consumption, particularly saturated fats. As in the United States, this has led to people replacing healthy fat calories with carbohydrates, often refined. Kasma has several Thai friends who are very worried about eating fat but place no limits at all on eating carbohydrates.

Waffles

Waffles at a Skytrain Station

The problem with limiting fats is twofold: 1) most people replace them with carbohydrates; 2) eating fat is more satisfying and you get a feeling of fullness, which makes it hard to overeat; not so with carbs – it’s very easy to keep eating carbs or drinking sodas and adding calories and carbs to your system.

I’m glad The Nation mentioned eating less sugar, though, as usual, they also want to demonize fats. I’ve recently blogged about the so-called “heart healthy diet” in A “Healthy” Diet. The evidence I’ve seen indicates that traditional fats (animal fats such as chicken fat and lard as well as olive oil, palm & coconut oil) are necessary for good health while the new-fangled oils, the polyunsaturated oils such as soy, are of dubious benefit.

Increasingly, doctors are saying that an excess of carbohydrates in the diet, particularly refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar (including high fructose corn syrup) are the likely cause of many diseases, including diabetes and coronary heart disease. For instance, see the recent Los Angeles Times Article A reversal on carbs, which has the subhead “Fat was once the devil. Now more nutritionists are pointing accusingly at sugar and refined grains.” One of the best books on the subject is Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage) by Gary Taubes published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. After studying ALL of the evidence about diet and disease, Taubes says:

Corn Yogurt

Corn yogurt, very sweet!

“As I emerge from this research, though, certain conclusions seem inescapable to me, based on the existing knowledge: 1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization. 2. The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis—the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.”

The rest of his conclusions, each one meticulously researched and considered, are available at Read an Excerpt: ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’.

As for salt, it may surprise you to know that when all the evidence is considered, the jury is still out on the dangers of salt consumption. I’ll again quote Gary Taubes, this time from his consideration of salt in The (Political) Science of Salt:

“While the government has been denouncing salt as a health hazard for decades, no amount of scientific effort has been able to dispense with the suspicions that it is not. Indeed, the controversy over the benefits, if any, of salt reduction now constitutes one of the longest running, most vitriolic, and surreal disputes in all of medicine.”

If you’re concerned or interested, check out the Taubes article above as well as
The Great Salt Myth, by Paul Rosch, M.D. One thing to keep in mind is that most table salt and the salt in processed foods is not natural salt: it is the chemical sodium chloride. In its natural form salt contains all kinds of minerals and other elements. Sodium needs many of those minerals and elements to be utilized effectively by the body.


The information in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult a qualified and educated healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship.


Check out Michael’s blog on The Other Side of Thai Food.


Written by Michael Babcock, February 2011

A “Healthy” Diet

Michael Babcock, Friday, January 14th, 2011

Introduction

Many people in Kasma’s cooking classes have concerns about coconut milk — they’re afraid of saturated fat. As a country we are obsessed with fear of fats, particularly saturated fat.

Since at least the late 1970′s up until around 2000 I followed what is called a “Heart Healthy Diet.” You know the one. It’s what the USDA has been telling us to follow for years — plenty of carbs, limit your fat to 30% of calories, your saturated fat to 10% of calories (7% would be even better), avoid salt, replace whole milk with no-fat milk or soy milk, no limitation put on sugars or refined carbohydrates. This entire diet is based on what is called the “Lipid Hyopthesis” or, alternatively, the “Cholesterol-Heart Disease Theory.” Basically, it states that eating saturated fat and cholesterol will lead to elevated cholesterol in the blood stream, which in turn will lead to higher rates of heart disease. Oh, and diabetes, too.

Since 1987 I had been dealing with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). My health had gradually been improving since I met Kasma in 1992, as I begin to eat more of her diet. Ironically, Kasma was as healthy as could be. Here I was eating the “healthy diet,” particularly concerned with fat and salt intake, and I was really sick and her diet ignored the warnings on saturated fat – many of her favorite foods were (and are) quite high in fat (such as pork leg with the skin and fat on) and she ate as much salt (mostly in the form of fish sauce) as she wanted. In the early years, she was delighted: I left all the fatty bits to her.

It was around 2000 that I got interested in the whole question of fat and cholesterol. It happened because someone at a offsite cooking class absconded with a pamphlet Kasma had on coconut  oil.

(Note: All links on this page open in a new window so that you can easily return to this page. Links were last checked in January 2011.)

Conventional wisdom says to avoid coconut like the plague; after all, it is VERY high in saturated fat. For decades we have been told to stay away from coconut. Yet something seemed wrong with this recommendation to me. At that point I had been to Thailand 8 times and seen a country that eats lots and lots  of coconut (see my article How to Eat a Coconut a Day in Thailand) and I had seen very few fat people. Thailand has a much lower rate of heart disease than America, source of the “Heart Healthy” diet. The rate in Thailand has increased in recent years and, even with the increase, as of July 2010, the mortality rate “was 2.6 percent, compared to 4.9 percent in other countries.” (See this article in The Nation.) Since from time-to-time we would get questions of concern from students about the allegedly unhealthy coconut milk in Thai food, I decided to do some research and come up with a hand-out for Kasma (to replace the missing one) about coconut milk. You can read it our website: The Truth About Coconut Oil.

The book that launched me on countless hours of research was Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. In researching coconut oil, I discovered a little secret. Pretty much everything the medical profession and mainstream media tells us about the dangers of saturated fat and cholesterol is wrong.

Naughton Graphic

Courtesy of Tom Naughton

Bear with me here. If you still think saturated fat and cholesterol is bad for you, the rest of this article will give you sources to find out the truth, to find out what unbiased researchers and nutrition writers have discovered from studying all of the evidence that is available on the topic. Rather than put the argument in my words, I refer you to people who have examined the original sources and can write far more authoritatively than I can. If you think saturated fat and cholesterol are dangerous and a health risk, I challenge you to take the time to watch just one of the videos I mention below or read one of the shorter articles. If those pique your interest, go further down the list to some of the books on the topic. Just look at some of the evidence. Please.


A Challenge

Monica Graphic

Kendrick Graphic, click to enlarge

Please take 1 minute and 18 seconds and look at the following video:

Now read this quote from the most complete book on the subject: Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage) by Gary Taubes published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. After studying ALL of the evidence about diet and disease, Taubes says:

As I emerge from this research, though, certain conclusions seem inescapable to me, based on the existing knowledge: “1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization.

You can read the rest of his conclusions, and I recommend that you do so, at Read an Excerpt: ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’. Every one of these conclusions is meticulously detailed in the body of the book. If you disagree with any of them, you owe it to yourself to get the book and read it: find out how he reached the conclusions.

Are you still leery of saturated fat and cholesterol? My challenge is to follow some of the links below, get an alternative view based on scientific thinking and consideration. If you’re still not convinced, check out the resources further down in “Longer Sources.”


Good Places to Start

Try the video below: it’s entertaining and has a ton of good information.

Then check out these three articles:

Information on Fats

Information on Cholesterol

We’ve been terrified for so long about cholesterol, it helps to know exactly what it does in the body: you might be surprised. In addition to “Cholesterol: Friend Or Foe?” by Natasha Campbell-McBride (see link above) I’ve also included two versions of an article by Uffe Ravnskov that looks at medical studies which suggest that high cholesterol can be beneficial.

Good Authors to Read

Malcolm Kendrick, M.D. was one of the authors who absolutely convinced me that the Cholesterol Heart Disease Theory was wrong. If you can, read his book (see below) and here are numerous short articles.

Uffe Ravnskov, M.D., Ph.D. has been one of the strongest critics of the Cholesterol-Heart Disease Theory, which he has attacked with scientific rigor.

Barry Grove, Ph.D. is a doctor of nutrition and has been challenging medical myths for years.

Duane Graveline, M.D., M.P.H., was an astronaut and is a trained physician who suffered transient global amnesia (TGA) while taking Lipitor. His website, Space Doc has links to many great articles, by himself and other. Try these:

Other Good Resources

  • The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics. In particular, check out:
    • News – Up-to-date and breaking news.
    • Unpublished – It contains unpublished papers and letters by members, in particular letters that different medical journals deemed unworthy of publication.
    • Links – More links to articles (many duplicates from this page).
  • Statins. Did Your Doctor Tell You . . . ?, by Michael Babcock. Although I wrote this in 2003, it is still relevant today. In addition to information specific to statin drugs it has good general information and background with links to good sources.

Information on Coconut


Books for Extended Reading

All of these books are recommended. All of them successfully challenge the Cholesterol-Heart Disease Theory and include documentation and references to the studies often used to justify the theory.

Useful Video?

I’ve not seen the following but if it’s as interesting as his Big Fat Fiasco, it’s worth a view.


A Quick Word on Salt

The usual recommendation from doctors and the media is to limit our salt intake. You might be as surprised as I was to find out that this recommendation does not rest on very good evidence. Once again, do not take my word for it. Check out the following.

One thing to keep in mind is that most table salt and the salt in processed foods is not natural salt: it is the chemical sodium chloride. In its natural form salt contains all kinds of minerals and other elements. Sodium needs many of those minerals and elements to be utilized effectively by the body.


The information in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult a qualified and educated healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship.


Written by Michael Babcock, January 2011