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Yup, and I can prove it:  Ancel Keys had a tiny dataset — but that didn’t stop him from leaping to big conclusions.  Nina Teicholz wrote about Keys’ problematic data in the terrific book The Big Fat Surprise, and I just came across an old paper that backs her up.

The paper appeared in a 1989 edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and was (of course) based on Keys’ famous Seven Countries study.  You’ll recall that Keys supposedly recorded what people in seven countries ate and then followed their health outcomes for several years.

Here’s a description of the study’s design from the paper:

During the base-line survey 13,000 men, aged 40- 59 y, were medically examined. Information on diet was collected in random samples from each cohort by use of the record method.  Detailed data on food consumption patterns have been published only for 9 of the 16 cohorts. Therefore, the food intake data were coded once again into a standardized form by one person. Then the foods were summarized in a limited number of food groups. The average daily consumption per person of these food groups was calculated for each cohort.

So Keys had food records, although that coding and summarizing part sounds a little fishy.  Then he followed the health of 13,000 men so he could find associations between diet and heart disease.  So we can assume he had dietary records for all 13,000 of them, right?

Uh … no.  That wouldn’t be the case.

The poster-boys for his hypothesis about dietary fat and heart disease were the men from the Greek island of Crete.  They supposedly ate the diet Keys recommended:  low-fat, olive oil instead of saturated animal fats and all that, you see.  Keys tracked more than 300 middle-aged men from Crete as part of his study population, and lo and behold, few of them suffered heart attacks.  Hypothesis supported, case closed.

So guess how many of those 300-plus men were actually surveyed about their eating habits?  Go on, guess.  I’ll wait …

And the answer is:  31.

Yup, 31.  And that’s about the size of the dataset from each of the seven countries:  somewhere between 25 and 50 men.  It’s right there in the paper’s data tables. That’s a ridiculously small number of men to survey if the goal is to accurately compare diets and heart disease in seven countries.

But wait … so far we’re assuming the dietary records were accurate.  As Teicholz pointed out, Keys took one of his food-recall surveys in Greece during Lent, when religious Greeks abstain from animal foods.  I’d call that a bit of a confounding variable.  And then there’s this, directly from the paper:

In Crete the villages involved were Agies, Paraskies, Thrapsano, and Kastelli. In Corfu the villages were Ano Korakiana, Skriperon, and San Marco. About 30 men were involved in each dietary survey. However, the original 7-day records were no longer available.

No original records?!  So you dumped the study, right?

It was therefore decided to reconstruct the diets of these cohorts on the basis of results of the dietary surveys mentioned in a publication by Keys et al.

Uh … so you swapped in the results from an earlier paper.  Okay, got it.  But tell me we’re at least talking about a genuine dietary survey here.

When no information about the consumption of certain foods, eg, fruits and vegetables, was available food balance sheet data from Greece in 1961-65 were used as a substitute.

Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

Getting the picture?  Keys followed the health of more than 300 men from Crete.  But he only surveyed 31 of them, with one of those surveys taken during the meat-abstinence month of Lent.  Oh, and the original seven-day food-recall records weren’t available later, so he swapped in data from an earlier paper.  Then to determine fruit and vegetable intake, he used data sheets about food availability in Greece during a four-year period.

And from this mess, he concluded that high-fat diets cause heart attacks and low-fat diets prevent them.

Keep in mind, this is one of the most-cited studies in all of medical science.  It’s one of the pillars of the Diet-Heart hypothesis.  It helped to convince the USDA, the AHA, doctors, nutritionists, media health writers, your parents, etc., that saturated fat clogs our arteries and kills us, so we all need to be on low-fat diets – even kids.

Yup, Ancel Keys had a tiny one … but he sure managed to screw a lot of people with it.

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Random thoughts that don’t belong in a From The News post:

Safe Starches Didn’t Cause Weight Gain

When I wrote a series of posts explaining why I was moving more towards a Perfect Health Diet, I said I’d report back if I gained or lost weight as a result.  I haven’t gained or lost, so I’ll report that instead.

I was at 198 lbs. when I started adding some safe starches back into my diet some months ago.  I was at 198 lbs. when I went to the gym last week.  So while I know from experience that keeping my carb intake at or below 100 grams per day level prevents me from gaining weight and makes it easier to lose weight, it’s simply not true (at least in my case) that the fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.  Below a certain level, there are no additional benefits for me that I can see or feel.

I don’t consume 100 grams of safe starches every day, by the way.  Some days are almost zero-carb because I just happen to have a taste for meats and vegetables.  Sometimes I have a potato with breakfast or dinner, sometimes I don’t.  Other days I’ll end up having a potato with lunch and another one with dinner.

Tonight’s dinner was two cheeseburger patties (from a grass-fed cow), broccoli with butter, and a medium potato with butter and sour cream.  My glucose peaked at 130.  Not bad.  Potatoes are on my menu, but rice isn’t.  I’ve found that it doesn’t take much rice to push my glucose over 200. Since I find rice basically tasteless, that’s not a good tradeoff.

Exercise Didn’t Cause Weight Loss

When Dr. Mike Eades told me during the making of Fat Head that exercises like walking, aerobic dancing, etc., don’t induce weight loss, I couldn’t believe it.  He sent me links to some research to overcome my resistance.  I’ve since read quite a bit more on the subject.  Yes, we’d all like to believe an hour on the treadmill helps burn away the fat – because by gosh, it just feels like that kind of effort should be rewarded – but it simply isn’t the case.

Here’s a recent example: when I weighed myself at the gym before Jimmy Moore’s recent visit, I was at (surprise) 198 lbs.  During his visit, we walked 27 miles in six days.  (I consumed my normal diet that week, by the way.)  I went to the gym the Sunday after he left and found that I weighed … wait for it … 198 lbs.   All that walking, no change whatsoever.

I still can’t believe all the hours I wasted on a treadmill back in the day …

Comedians With Asperger’s

Since I’ve been both a comedian and an indie filmmaker, some young comedians sent me information about a documentary they’re producing – which I found intriguing because all four of them have Asperger’s.  Here’s the trailer:

They’re asking for donations to cover post-production costs.  (Yeah, I know all about those costs.)  I just made a donation.  Please consider doing likewise by visiting their IndieGoGo page.

Wow, that’s a lot of eyeballs

Speaking of indie films, when Fat Head was released in 2009, one of the clips I put on YouTube was an edited version of the section titled Why You Got Fat.  I haven’t checked the stats in a long time.  Take a look:

Nice.  Very nice.

Chicken-Killer Stew Part Duex?

What was once Sara’s flock of 25 chickens is now a flock of 20.  The raccoon that ended up in our stew pot killed four of them.  Something else nabbed another one last night.  Chareva noticed the tarp over the top of the hoop-house had been ripped open, apparently so some critter (most likely another raccoon) could grab a chicken and pull it out between the bars.

So she spent a good chunk of the afternoon covering the hoop-house with wire mesh.  I did my part by re-baiting my raccoon trap.

Come on, Rocky Raccoon, I double-dog dare you …

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Okay, I admit it: some of you tried to warn me.

I went outside yesterday to play a round of disc golf, and as I was standing on the second tee and lining up the mandatory shot between the trees, it struck me that something didn’t look right.

As Chareva has reminded me several times over the years, I’m not the most visual person in the world – I fail to notice things like a wife’s new haircut, for example – so it took me perhaps 20 seconds or so to figure it out … i.e., long enough to throw my shot, walk down to the creek, and then wonder why the hell I was about to step into shin-deep water when I know darned good and well I built a nice bridge some months back.

Some readers warned me at the time that a hard rain could wash my bridge downstream, but I knew better. Those 4 x 4 beams are heavy. Soon after I built the bridge, we had a buckets-of-rain thunderstorm, and I watched from my office window as water rushed over and under my bridge without budging it. I had surgery on my shoulder some years ago, so I was careful not to strain it while patting myself on the back. Yup, I’d constructed a fine, heavy bridge.

Besides, for the bridge to wash downstream, it would have to get past all those trees you see in the picture below, then pass through a tunnel under our driveway. No way. So I came to the only logical conclusion: some ne’er-do-wells living in this area were so envious of my beautiful, well-constructed, won’t-budge-in-rushing-water bridge, they came by in the middle of the night and stole it.  Probably been planning the job for weeks.

But I didn’t see any tire tracks near the creek, and frankly, anyone strong enough to just pick up the bridge and walk away with it is someone I don’t want to confront with any loose accusations about property theft.

Okay, I thought to myself, I’ll take a peek through that tunnel that goes under the driveway, but there’s no way–

Um … wow. Thing is, I wasn’t even aware of any heavy rain the night before. Certainly we didn’t have a thunderstorm. It must have just been a hard rain minus the fireworks.

For the bridge to end up that far downstream, it had to pass over this:

I won’t strain my shoulder patting myself on the back, but the bridge is solidly built. That had to be bumpy ride, with a nice little fall at the end, but there’s not a crack in it.

So then came the fun part: getting it up and out of the creek and onto dry land.

After I figure out the best way to move it back where it belongs, I’ll be chaining it to a tree.


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After reading about my experience gutting a raccoon and making Chicken-Killer Stew, a friend of mine promised he’d try to find this cookbook and send it to me.

I bet Granny knows how to make a good possum pie.

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Lawmakers Consider Mandating Low-Fat Milk

Well, I am shocked … some politicians are considering a law to (ahem) help curb childhood obesity, but the theory behind the law isn’t backed by science. I know, I know: you can’t believe members of The Anointed would try to impose a Grand Plan without first presenting solid evidence the Grand Plan will work. Anyway, some quotes from a news article:

Milk — it does a body bad? Some Connecticut lawmakers seem to think so. The state legislature is considering a bill that would ban day care centers from serving whole milk or 2 percent milk to children. The move, according to the bill’s sponsors, is aimed at curbing childhood obesity — but opponents say the information is outdated.

I’m not sure outdated is the correct word here. If you ask me the population of the U.S. and I quote a figure from the 1990 Census, my information is outdated – it was correct at one time, but isn’t correct now because the data has changed. The idea that whole milk makes kids fat isn’t outdated.  It’s wrong.  It’s wrong now, and it was wrong when this happened:

While the American Academy of Pediatrics put out a 2008 recommendation that children switch to low-fat milk after the age of 2 because they don’t need the fat content, others argue that the fat isn’t the dietary demon some claim.

That’s we why ignored our pediatrician’s low-fat milk advice when the girls were toddlers. Kids do need the fat content. They need the fat for their rapidly-growing brains.

The Connecticut bill would set stringent standards.  It reads: “No child day care center, group day care home or family day care home shall provide milk with a milk fat content greater than 1 percent to any child 2 years of age or older under the care of such facility unless milk with a higher milk fat content is medically required for an individual child, as documented by such child’s medical provider.”

Family day care home … that means if your friends or neighbors pay you to watch their kids, the Connecticut legislators are telling you what kind of milk you can serve – in your home.   It’s not up to you, and it’s not up the parents who have entrusted their kids to you.  It’s up to some legislators to decide what’s best for those kids.  They are, after all, The Anointed.

In a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, reviewers found that high-fat dairy was associated with a lower risk of obesity.

Yup.  Here’s a link to an abstract for another study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, in which the researchers reached this conclusion:

A high intake of dairy fat was associated with a lower risk of central obesity and a low dairy fat intake was associated with a higher risk of central obesity.

That’s because dairy fat doesn’t make people fat.  I’m guessing those Connecticut legislators didn’t bother reading the research.

Stop worrying about your weight and go hit the weights

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice: BMI is a lousy method for determining who’s fat and who isn’t. Turns out it’s also lousy at predicting longevity:

Doctors routinely measure a patient’s body mass index, or BMI. And if that weight-to-height ratio points to obesity, the doc might prescribe exercise, to shed the extra pounds. But when it comes to longevity, a focus on weight loss may be misplaced. Because BMI isn’t actually a very reliable indicator of life span. A more useful measure, some physicians say, might be muscle mass.

Researchers analyzed BMI and muscle mass data from more than 3,600 seniors in a long-term study. And they tracked which seniors had died, a decade later. Turns out BMI wasn’t much good at predicting chance of death.

Quick, somebody inform the feds! Better yet, somebody inform all the insurance companies that consider BMI in their life-insurance rates.

But muscle mass was: more muscle meant better odds of survival. The study appears in The American Journal of Medicine. There’s no cause-and-effect here—just correlation for now. But study author Preethi Srikanthan, of U.C.L.A., has this recommendation: “Get up and start moving. Focus on trying to maintain the maximum amount of resistance training that you can, and stop worrying so much about dropping calories.”

Good point about the correlation. Muscle mass itself may or may not influence longevity directly. Perhaps the kind of exercise that produces more muscle mass also improves metabolic factors that lead to a longer lifespan. Either way, I’d reach the same conclusion: don’t fret so much about achieving a particular weight on the scale. Hit the weights and add some lean muscle mass.  Even if you don’t live longer, you’ll live better.

FDA considers demanding “voluntary” reductions in sodium

Well, here’s how you get people to stop eating so much packaged food – regulate the flavor out of it:

The government wants Americans to get used to eating foods with less of their favorite seasoning — salt. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning on issuing new guidelines to food companies and restaurants to decrease out-of-control sodium levels, officials said.

Now, don’t you libertarian types go get all in a tizzy. The FDA says these new guidelines will be “voluntary.” You know how government officials are always going around issuing “voluntary” regulations and then just saying “Aw, geez” and going on their merry way if the regulations are ignored.  I mean, it’s not as if The Anointed would want to force compliance.

Experts said the guidelines are a good starting point, but would not put enough pressure on eateries to limit their use of salt.

“If one company doesn’t lower it, then another one won’t,” said Lisa Young, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. “If it’s mandatory, and everyone starts lowering sodium, then we’re in good shape.”

Allow me to interpret that: Members of The Anointed agree that “voluntary” guidelines are a good starting point, as long as they’re not actually voluntary and everyone is eventually forced to comply.

Frank Sacks, a professor of nutrition and medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health, said restaurants and food companies would have to confront the issue sooner or later. “It just appalls me how much salt the chefs will just pour on the food,” said Sacks. “It’s sort of a lazy way of flavoring food. The food industry will eventually be pushed to respond.”

Allow me to interpret that: Frank Sacks, a member of The Anointed, agrees that restaurants and food companies should be forced to comply. “It just appalls me how chefs are salting food to match their customers’ preferences. The food industry should eventually be compelled to serve the low-sodium foods I believe people should eat.”

Average Americans consume an astounding 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day — about 33% more than the federal government’s recommended intake and more than 50% higher than the American Heart Association’s suggested figure. Americans eat about 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt daily, a level of consumption that increases the risk of high blood pressure and strokes.

Allow me to interpret that: We in the media are convinced that 3,400 milligrams of salt is way too much because the federal government and the American Heart Association say so – and as members of The Anointed, we don’t expect them to provide any evidence.

But wait … I seem to recall that a different branch of the government did weigh in on the salt issue awhile back. Let me see if I can dig it up … ahhh, yes, here it is:

CDC Admits Long-Standing Error in Medical Science – There Is No Benefit In Reducing Salt Intake And It May Even Be Dangerous

A recent report commissioned by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed the health benefits of reducing salt intake and the take-home message is that salt, in the quantities consumed by most Americans, is no longer considered a substantial health hazard. What the CDC study reported explicitly is that there is no benefit, and may be a danger, from reducing our salt intake below 1 tsp per day.

So following the AHA’s sodium guidelines could actually be dangerous.

This review by the National Academies Institute of Medicine (IOM), commissioned by CDC, considered dozens of studies, from cross-cultural (less reliable) to prospective, randomized with control (most reliable). Most studies showed no relationship between salt intake and any health outcome. Some seemed to indicate that more salt had a beneficial effect.

Well then, let’s force the food companies to comply with “voluntary” reductions as quickly as possible.

To translate this last study into teaspoons: the finding was that anything between 1-1/2 and 3 tsp of salt per day is just fine, and there were adverse effects from eating more than that or less than that. Most Americans who are not consciously restricting salt fall in this range (1-1/2 to 3 tsp).

So the FDA is about to mandate a reduction in sodium for restaurant and packaged foods because Americans are consuming an “astounding” 1 ½ teaspoons of salt per day — which (according to the CDC) is at the lower end of the beneficial range.  In other words, the FDA wants you to reduce your sodium intake to what could be a dangerous level — for you own good, of course.

Your brain health is in your gut

As Dr. William Davis pointed out in Wheat Belly, the rate of celiac disease has increased by 400% in the past 50 years – and that figure is based on antibodies found in blood samples, so we’re not just seeing the result of better diagnosis.

The number of people diagnosed with attention-deficit problems has also taken a huge jump over the past 50 years. I suspect in that case, the rush to diagnose kids with ADHD does figure into the rise. But comprised gut health probably figures into it as well. Take a look what a study reported in this article found:

Individuals with celiac disease often experience ‘brain fog’ in addition to intestinal problems, but a new study shows that adhering to a gluten-free diet can lead to improvements in cognition that correlate with the extent of intestinal healing.

The Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics findings indicate that ridding the diet of gluten may help address problems that celiac disease patients can experience related to attention, memory, and other mental tasks.

“The study outcomes highlight the importance for individuals with celiac disease of maintaining a gluten-free diet not just for physical well-being but also for mental well-being,” said senior author Dr. Greg Yelland.

Considering that an estimated eight out of 10 people with celiac disease are never diagnosed, you have to wonder how many kids taking drugs for ADHD would be better off dumping the grains, healing their digestive tracts, then dumping the medications.

The USDA, of course, will continue mandating that kids in schools include a grain product in every meal. Then some other branch of the government will step in with a big, expensive program to help kids who have a difficult time concentrating in school.

Fruits and vegetables! Whole grains! Fruits and vegetables!

Poke a government nutritionist (or Michelle Obama) in her sleep, and she’ll blurt out, “Fruits and vegetables! Whole grains! Fruits and vegetables!” Because by gosh, if we could just get people to buy and eat those fruits and vegetables, the obesity epidemic would be solved.

Uh … but not according to a new study:

It is a commonly recommended weight-loss tactic to increase the feeling of being full by consuming more fruits and vegetables, but that may be another diet recommendation dead-end, according to a new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Of course it’s a dead-end recommendation. That’s why it’s also government policy.

Kathryn Kaiser, Ph.D., instructor in the UAB School of Public Health, and a team of investigators at UAB, including Andrew W. Brown, Ph.D., Michelle M. Bohan Brown, Ph.D., James M. Shikany, Dr.PH., and David B. Allison, Ph.D., and Purdue University investigators performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of data of more than 1200 participants in seven randomized controlled trials that focused on increasing fruit and vegetable intake to see effects on weight loss. Their results show that increased fruit and vegetable consumption per se does not reduce body weight.

“Across the board, all studies we reviewed showed a near-zero effect on weight loss,” Kaiser said. “So I don’t think eating more alone is necessarily an effective approach for weight loss because just adding them on top of whatever foods a person may be eating is not likely to cause weight change.”

Fruits and vegetables! Whole grains! Fruits and vegetables!

Sorry, was I asleep? Yes, and I was dreaming I was a government nutritionist. What a horrible nightmare.

“There are many studies where people are spending a lot of money figuring out how to increase fruit and vegetable intake, and there are a lot of healthy things that this helps; but weight loss isn’t one of them,” Kaiser said. Because this recommendation is so widely shared, Kaiser believes these results should bring change to public health messaging.


Dr. Kaiser, if you believe evidence (or a lack thereof) is going to bring change to public-health messaging, you’re the one who’s dreaming. Have you noticed the USDA still mandates skim milk in schools? Did you hear about how the FDA is demanding a lower sodium content in packaged food, even though a CDC study says Americans are actually consuming a beneficial amount of salt?

GMO labels not necessary

Farms groups and mutant creatures agree that GMO labels won’t make a difference, according to an article online:

The public’s unfounded safety concerns over genetically engineered foods might result in higher costs in the grocery store, as well as a potentially catastrophic battle between the forces of good and evil.

A powerful grass-roots movement is fueling legislation that could soon require companies to disclose on food labels if products contain GMOs, or Gigantic Mothra-like Organisms.

The food industry is pouring millions of dollars into lobbying efforts to defeat GMO food labeling bills. Educating a misinformed public about the benefits of genetically engineered products has become the voluntary responsibility of farmers, scientists, and those people who have gained preternatural powers through freakish accidents.

Okay, that last article was on my buddy Dave Jaffe’s Write Good! humor blog, so it was probably a joke. But with all the government (ahem) experts out there setting health and nutrition policies, it’s hard to tell comedy from reality.

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The goats did such a bangup job of chewing away the miniature jungle in their pen, we decided it was time to let them attack some of our overgrown side fields.  We’d planned to use cattle panels for temporary fencing, but based on some feedback from readers, we decided an electrified fence would be a better (though considerably more expensive) option.  If nothing else, we can use it to expand the chicken yards once the goats are gone.

The fencing is light and flexible.  The only problem with stringing 200 feet of the stuff around part of a field is that we live in Tennessee – whose theme song is Rocky Top for good reason.  To anchor the fence posts, you stomp a two-pronged stake into the ground.  I don’t think a single prong went into the ground on one attempt.  We’d try one spot, hit a rock, try another spot, hit a rock, finally hit paydirt.  So let’s just say the corral looks like it was installed by someone who prefers angles over straight lines.

The electricity is provided by a solar-powered unit that sends a 4,000-volt pulse through the fence about every second or so – frequently enough to keep the goats in and predators out.

The fun part (for me, because I was standing there taking pictures) was watching Chareva and Sara chase the goats around their pen to catch them and put on harnesses.  Man, those goats can move when they’re motivated.  But they got the job done, and Sara walked them (well, dragged them) into the new corral.

Both goats tried nuzzling the fence a few times, and both jerked back with a WTF?!! expression — if goats have expressions.  Anyway, they learned quickly that getting too close to the fence is a bad idea.  So now they’re out there chewing up the weeds and, I presume, fertilizing the ground.

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