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I suspected my post about the real Inuit diet would draw a few howls online, and I was right. There are people in the low-carb world I think of as vegans-in-reverse: instead of insisting that humans aren’t designed to eat meat, nobody actually needs meat, and eating any kind of meat is bad for you, they insist that humans aren’t designed to eat plants, nobody actually needs any plant foods, and eating any kind of plant food is bad for you.

Sheesh.

If you’re on all-meat diet and it’s working for you, great. But it’s one thing to say an all-meat diet works for you and quite another to insist that our paleo ancestors didn’t eat plants and therefore nobody – absolutely NOBODY, you understand – needs any plant foods to be healthy. When I commented on Facebook that many plants provide micronutrients we need to be healthy, someone even labeled it as an excuse to eat carbs.

An excuse to eat carbs? Seriously? We don’t need an “excuse” to eat whole, unprocessed plant foods that contain carbohydrates any more than we need an “excuse” to eat meat. That’s what I mean by the vegan-in-reverse mentality:  in the eyes of some people, eating any plant foods at all is apparently a moral failure.  Give me a break.

Short of building a time machine and zipping on back to paleo times, I don’t suppose we can prove what paleo humans ate or didn’t eat. But I’m convinced Paleo Man included plants in his diet. Here are a few reasons:

Our nearest relatives

Humans share about 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees. We’re not directly descended from them, but according to the genome project, we almost certainly split off from a common ancestor. Vegans like to insist that chimps are vegetarians, and therefore we should be vegetarians too. That’s wrong, of course. Chimps hunt and eat meat. But they’re still omnivores who get most of their calories from plant foods.

Eating meat allowed us to develop bigger brains and become human. But I find it difficult to believe that after evolving from plant-eating apes, we rejected plant foods entirely once we became proficient hunters, and then suddenly started eating plants again 15,000 years ago. It seems a wee bit more logical to assume we added meat to a diet that continued to include plants.

Hunter-gatherers

More than 200 hunter-gatherer societies were discovered and studied in relatively modern times. These were people who hadn’t previously been exposed to civilization and were living a stone-age lifestyle. They all ate meat or fish or both. They also gathered and ate plants – even the Inuit ate certain plants when they could find them.

According to Loren Cordain’s studies, carbohydrates made up 20% to 40% of the diet in most hunter-gatherer societies. Good luck doing that eating nothing but meat. So once again, I find it more than a little difficult to believe that Paleo Man ate no plants whatsoever, but people living essentially a paleo lifestyle in modern times did.

Yes, yes, yes, I can hear the reply in cyberspace already: yeah, but humans only ate plants when they hunted the big game to extinction and ran short of meat!

Sorry, but that is simply not true.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was fascinated with Native Americans for years and read a ton of books about them. I still read one now and then. A book I read a couple of years ago described how the buffalo-hunting Sioux would get together with their Eastern cousins and trade buffalo meat and hides for foods like pumpkins and squash.

If you’re trading away meat for squash, it means you want the squash.  It’s not a meat-shortage survival strategy.  Until the “civilized” buffalo-hunters came along and nearly wiped out the herds, there were a shootload of buffalo living on the Great Plains. I doubt the Sioux ever ran short of meat. I’ve also read that the buffalo-hunting Sioux ate wild berries, spinach, turnips and potatoes. No meat shortage, and yet they ate plant foods.

One reader on Facebook suggested I watch a speech by Dr. Mike Eades, claiming it provides slam-dunk evidence that early humans lived on an all-meat diet. So I watched the speech, which was excellent, of course. But the evidence Dr. Eades presented (much of which focused on analysis of stable isotopes) only proves that early humans ate a heck of a lot of meat, both from herbivores and carnivores. It proves they were top-level hunters. It doesn’t prove – and wasn’t intended to prove – that they stopped eating plants.

In fact, in one section of the speech, Dr. Eades talked about a study of Native American skeletons found in Kentucky. One group of skeletons came from hunters who lived nearly 3,500 years ago – 3,000 years before Europeans showed up. Another group of skeletons came from agriculturalists who lived 1,500 years ago and ate a lot of maize. The hunters were healthier in all kinds of ways – watch the speech if you’re interested. But what struck me was this slide:

The hunters ate a variety of meats, but also gathered and ate grapes, acorns, blackberries, sunflowers and hickory nuts. Again, I sincerely doubt they only gathered those foods when they ran short of meat, because I doubt they ever ran out of meat.

Kentucky and Tennessee have similar weather and terrain. Even with the encroachment of civilization, we have plenty of deer and other animals tromping around our area year-round. Heck, we hit a deer recently while driving home. Lots of people around here end up with damaged vehicles because of deer collisions. Just this week, Chareva spotted three deer carcasses along the highway near our home. And as you know if you read my farm-report posts, there’s no shortage of raccoons around here.

In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes describes how early European explorers described much of the planet as a “paradise for hunting,” with large and small game present in almost unimaginable numbers. I’m pretty sure that applied to the dense forest that’s now Kentucky. The Native American hunters in that area didn’t eat grapes and blackberries because they ran out of meat. They ate them because of …

Our taste buds

If you’ve seen Fat Head, you may remember this line: Mother Nature isn’t stupid. She didn’t make human beings the only species on earth who prefers foods that will kill us.

The whole idea behind paleo diets is that we have to eat the kinds of foods that Nature, through evolution, designed us to eat. We put it this way in the Fat Head Kids book:

The Nautilus was programmed to choose the right fuels and building materials automatically. Inside the FUD hatch, special sensors send messages to The Brain that say This is what the ship needs. You experience those messages as This Tastes Good.

When humans hunted and gathered their food, this app worked perfectly. Our taste for sweets told us to eat fruits and sweet-tasting vegetables like carrots and squashes. Our taste for fats told us to eat olives, nuts, eggs and meats. Our taste for salts told us to eat meats and seafood. Our taste for spices told us to eat plants that were full of vitamins and minerals.

Those are the flavors we naturally seek: sweet, fatty, salty and spicy. Good luck finding sweet and spicy flavors in an all-animal-foods diet. We like sweet and spicy foods because in a natural environment (not a processed-food environment), those tastes lead to us foods that provide micronutrients.

Here’s a slide from a lecture by Chris Kresser on the nutrient density of foods:

Yup, meats – especially organ meats – are nutrient-dense, which is why we should eat them. But please notice that herbs, spices, nuts and seeds are more nutrient-dense than beef, seafood and wild game. Many vegetables are more nutrient-dense than pork, eggs and poultry.

When I mentioned our natural desire for sweet and spicy foods, a reader on Facebook retorted with something along the lines of, Well, we only like fruits and other sweet foods now because we bred them over the centuries to be bigger and sweeter than they were in paleo times.

So let’s think about this …. you’re Paleo Man, supposedly a pure carnivore with no inborn desire for sweet foods. And yet you decide to breed fruit to contain even more of a flavor you don’t naturally like. How does that make any sense?

Humans don’t eat tree bark because it’s not a natural food for us and therefore doesn’t have a flavor we naturally enjoy. Would we start eating (and perhaps over-eating) tree bark if someone bred trees that grew really, really big and chewy bark? I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t. We bred animals to be fatter because we naturally love the taste of fat, and we bred fruit to be sweeter because we naturally like sweet foods.

Yes, the makers of processed foods have hijacked our taste for sweet foods to sell us donuts, candies, sodas, Pop-Tarts, Frosted Flakes, Twizzlers, gummy bears and countless other junk. But you can’t hijack a desire that doesn’t already exist.

My cat is an actual carnivore. He wouldn’t touch a donut if I offered it to him. Heck, even though he loves meat, he won’t touch spicy meats like pepperoni. Why? BECAUSE HE’S AN ACTUAL CARNIVORE. His brain tells him not to bother with sweet or spicy flavors, which come from plants.

Someone pointed out that his cat will eat dry cat food made from grains. Yup, so will mine. But only because the food-taste scientists managed make grain-based cat food appeal to a carnivore’s taste buds. If you don’t believe me, take a bite of some dry cat food. I promise it won’t taste sweet or spicy. You could fill my cat’s plate with bananas, berries, potatoes, bread sticks, tomatoes and broccoli drizzled with butter and he wouldn’t eat any of it. He wouldn’t eat gummy bears either, even though they’re super-sweet. Once again, you can’t hijack a desire that doesn’t already exist.

If Nature designed humans to be pure carnivores, we wouldn’t like sweet and spicy foods. And yet we do. And therefore it makes no sense to insist that paleo humans wouldn’t have gathered and eaten plant foods that were available, tasted good, and provided nutrients.

The AMY1 gene

All humans carry the AMY1 gene, which enables our bodies to digest starch. Some people have just one copy of the gene, while others carry up to 15 copies. The average among humans is six copies, whereas the average among chimpanzees is two. If we share a common ancestor with chimps, but then evolved into our human form on plant-free diets, why the heck would most humans carry more copies of the starch-eating gene than chimps, who live mostly on plant foods? That makes no sense.

Research strongly suggests that people with fewer copies of the AMY1 gene are more likely to have blood-sugar problems and gain weight on a starchy diet. Fair enough. That’s evidence that some of us have to limit our intake of starches. But if we’re all descended from paleo ancestors who lived on meat-only diets, there’s no logical reason we’d carry the AMY1 gene at all – and certainly no reason for some people to carry 15 copies.

If the reply is something like Well, humans probably only started carrying more copies of the AMY1 gene after we started farming, then it means our bodies were reprogrammed rather dramatically in the past 15,000 years. The whole idea behind paleo, of course, is that we’re virtually the same as our paleo ancestors and therefore need to eat like them.

Can’t have it both ways. Biologically, we’re either nearly identical to our paleo ancestors, or we’re not. If we are, then Paleo Man carried the genes to digest starch. If we’re not, then what Paleo Man did or didn’t eat doesn’t matter all that much.

The effects of zero-carb diets

Some people do well on zero-carb diets. But other people don’t. They get the symptoms Paul Jaminet described in his Perfect Health Diet book. They get dry eyes. Their thyroids slow down. Their cortisol levels go up. Their production of sex hormones declines.

I didn’t read the back-and-forth debate between Jaminet and Dr. Ron Rosedale on safe starches until a few years ago, but when I did read it, I found Jaminet’s arguments more convincing.

Rosedale, for example, doesn’t deny that a glucose deficiency can slow down the thyroid, but offered this explanation:

Glucose scarcity (deficiency may be a misnomer) elicits an evolutionary response to perceived low fuel availability. This results in a shift in genetic expression to allow that organism to better survive the perceived famine…. As part of this genetic expression, and as part and parcel of nature’s mechanism to allow the maintenance of health and actually reduce the rate of aging, certain events will take place as seen in caloric restricted animals. These include a reduction in serum glucose, insulin, leptin, and free T3. The reduction in free T3 is of great benefit, reducing temperature, metabolic damage and decreasing catabolism.

So yes, your thyroid may slow down, but Rosedale insists that’s good for longevity. Hmmm. If you’re struggling to lose that last 50 pounds, a “healthy” slower thyroid isn’t going to help. Neither is the reduction in leptin. Losing weight requires being in a catabolic state, so you can guess what “decreasing catabolism” means as far as weight loss.

As for the reduction in sex hormones, Rosedale replied with this:

If we evolved in a certain way and with certain physiologic responses to the way we eat, it was not for a long, healthy, post-reproductive lifespan. It was for reproductive success. The two are not at all synonymous, in fact often antagonistic.

Just roll that one around in your brain for a minute. Rosedale doesn’t deny that your sex hormones will decline, but insists it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for longevity. Jaminet does a good job of disputing that lower-is-always-better when it comes to glucose and longevity, but that’s not the point. If long-term, drastic restriction of glucose doesn’t support “reproductive success,” it can’t be the diet that allowed us to win the game called Survival of The Fittest.

If we’re all descended from and virtually identical to paleo ancestors who lived on all-meat diets, then almost nobody would suffer ill effects from a zero-carb diet – which, of course, is what an all-meat diet is. And yet many people don’t do well at all on a diet that includes no plants and no carbohydrates.

That’s because their paleo ancestors ate plants and at least some carbohydrates. Jumping up and down and insisting that anyone who doesn’t feel awesome and healthy on all-meat diet just isn’t doing it right! is thinking and acting like a vegan-in-reverse.  That doesn’t help the cause.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to go enjoy a dinner of beef, broccoli and roasted squash with onions … but if you happen to have any buffalo meat, I’ll trade you some squash for it.

 

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I’m working on a longer post that’s related to my previous post about the real Inuit diet. That’ll come later. A chunk of my time today was taken up with a follow-up visit with the surgeon. Since some of you asked for an update, here it is:

According to both the surgeon and the physical therapist, I’m healing as expected. The day-to-day pain level has dropped almost off the charts. I get an ache in the shoulder or bicep now and then, but it’s nothing an ibuprofen and a cold pack can’t handle.

There are exceptions.  Twice in the previous week I woke up with a stronger, throbbing pain around the bicep and had to pop a Percocet to go back to sleep. I suspect that’s just the result of me struggling against the sling while I sleep. The surgeon wasn’t at all concerned when I mentioned it.

The good news is that I can start removing the sling when I’m working at home. I just have to remember not to actually lift anything with my left arm. He suggested I still wear the sling when I leave the house, partly to restrain my own movements and partly to signal other people not to bump into me.

The really good news is that I no longer have to wear the damned thing while sleeping. Hallelujah. Trying to get a decent night’s sleep has been one of the worst parts of the whole experience. If you videotaped me sleeping normally and sped it up for playback, I’d look something like a fish tossed ashore. I turn and roll and flop into different positions. (Chareva’s worse. She also kicks and steals blankets.)

Turning and rolling and flopping was apparently a real threat to the reattached bicep tendon at first, so for the 30-plus nights since surgery, I’ve had to sleep sitting up, surrounded by pillows to keep me in that position, with my arm pinned to my side in the sling.

I didn’t have any trouble sleeping like that when I was still knocking myself out with Percocet before bed, but it’s a different story now that I’m off the painkillers. I sleep for a few hours, wake up feeling stiff and cramped and wanting to just roll the hell over already, get out of bed, utter a few curses known only to weekend hobby farmers who’ve had surgery, crawl back into bed, re-assume the sitting position, then try to sleep again.  I’m usually awake for at least an hour.

No sling tonight. No sitting up in a pillow throne. I don’t remember the last time I looked forward to crawling into bed this much.  There was probably lingerie involved.

I already feel a bit like the Pillsbury Dough Boy from the lack of exercise, so I asked the surgeon what I can and can’t do at this point. I’ve got the green light to work my legs at the gym, but that’s it. No upper-body exercise at all.

Dangit. That’s what I expected, but dangit anyway. The physical therapist told me that after surgery for a torn bicep, it’s a very slow buildup to exercise. It usually takes about a year to return to full strength.

Sheesh. I’ll be turning 60 in just under a year. I guess that will be my birthday gift: a return to full strength.

I went through this with the last shoulder surgery 15 years ago. By the time I could really start working out again, I had the muscles of an adolescent boy. If I remember correctly, I even started laughing at booger jokes again.

The difference between now and then (besides being almost 60 vs. being almost 45) is that I know a helluva lot more about what constitutes a good diet. I can’t avoid getting weak, but I can avoid getting fat and weak.

In the meantime, since outdoor work on weekends is a no-go, I’ve been focusing more on composing music for the Fat Head Kids film, which is one of the last remaining creative tasks before post-production work.

Composing and recording tools these days are, to put it mildly, simply awesome. With all the digital stuff, it’s gotten to the point where if you can hear it in your head, you can get it into your song. I haven’t been able to play guitar for obvious reasons, so I had my iPad strum the chords for one of the songs I’m recording. Blows my mind.

I wish I’d had these toys back when I was writing songs for my band in my twenties. We spent a lot of money to record in a studio that had a mere fraction of the tracks and effects and processors that now live inside the Logic Pro software on my Mac. I can even export a song-in-progress to my iPad, go sit in my comfortable recliner to do more composing, then pull the new tracks into Logic Pro. Again, it blows my mind.

So despite being physically sidelined and missing the joys of working myself into a state of Dog Tired Satisfied on the farm, I’m feeling just fine. For a time at least, my brain will have to do the heavy lifting.

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In my previous post, I wrote this:

I don’t agree with the conclusion that we only need meat and fish to healthy, by the way. Perhaps that’s true if you’re eating wild-caught fish and caribou who feasted on nutrient-dense wild plants, but unless you live off the land in Alaska, that’s not your meat-and-fish diet.

Perhaps that statement could use some explanation. Our favorite poster-boys for a meat-and-fish diet are the Inuit. In fact, back in 2010, I wrote a review of an excellent book titled Kabloona: Among the Inuit, written by a French adventurer who traveled and lived with Eskimos (as he called them) in the 1930s. In one chapter of the book, he describes how he brought some white-man’s treats (bread and cheese) to a friend who was a priest. The priest, as it turned out, no longer liked those foods. As the author wrote, the priest had lived on nothing but fish, seal and caribou for six years and was none the worse for it.

Okay, so people can live well on meat and fish. But there’s a little more to it than that.

Back when I researching Fat Head, I came across a Discover Magazine article titled The Inuit Paradox – the “paradox,” of course, being that they were healthy despite living on fatty meat and not having any hearthealthywholegrains! in their diets.

Here are some quotes from that article:

Patricia Cochran, an Inupiat from Northwestern Alaska, is talking about the native foods of her childhood: “We pretty much had a subsistence way of life. Our food supply was right outside our front door. We did our hunting and foraging on the Seward Peninsula and along the Bering Sea.

“Our meat was seal and walrus, marine mammals that live in cold water and have lots of fat. We used seal oil for our cooking and as a dipping sauce for food. We had moose, caribou, and reindeer. We hunted ducks, geese, and little land birds like quail, called ptarmigan. We caught crab and lots of fish—salmon, whitefish, tomcod, pike, and char. Our fish were cooked, dried, smoked, or frozen. We ate frozen raw whitefish, sliced thin. The elders liked stinkfish, fish buried in seal bags or cans in the tundra and left to ferment. And fermented seal flipper, they liked that too.”

Seal, walrus, geese, moose, caribou, reindeer, crab, fermented “stinkfish” and fermented seal flipper … does that sound anything like the all-meat-and-dish diet the typical zero-carber living in America would consume?  I’d urge people to read that paragraph several times before concluding Well, the Inuit didn’t eat plants, so I’ll be fine living on steaks, chicken, cream, bacon, eggs and a bit of broccoli now and then.

The Inuit did eat some plants, by the way, as the article explains:

In the short subarctic summers, the family searched for roots and greens and, best of all from a child’s point of view, wild blueberries, crowberries, or salmonberries, which her aunts would mix with whipped fat to make a special treat called akutuq—in colloquial English, Eskimo ice cream.

And even when they weren’t eating plants, they didn’t live strictly on meat and fish as we think of them:

One might, for instance, imagine gross vitamin deficiencies arising from a diet with scarcely any fruits and vegetables. What furnishes vitamin A, vital for eyes and bones? We derive much of ours from colorful plant foods, constructing it from pigmented plant precursors called carotenoids (as in carrots). But vitamin A, which is oil soluble, is also plentiful in the oils of cold-water fishes and sea mammals, as well as in the animals’ livers, where fat is processed.

Livers from cold-water fish and sea mammals – often eaten raw. Apparently that’s also where they got their vitamin C:

In fact, all it takes to ward off scurvy is a daily dose of 10 milligrams, says Karen Fediuk, a consulting dietitian and former graduate student of Harriet Kuhnlein’s who did her master’s thesis on vitamin C. Native foods easily supply those 10 milligrams of scurvy prevention, especially when organ meats—preferably raw—are on the menu. For a study published with Kuhnlein in 2002, Fediuk compared the vitamin C content of 100-gram (3.55-ounce) samples of foods eaten by Inuit women living in the Canadian Arctic: Raw caribou liver supplied almost 24 milligrams, seal brain close to 15 milligrams, and raw kelp more than 28 milligrams. Still higher levels were found in whale skin and muktuk.

Raw caribou liver, seal brains, kelp and whale skin. Again, not foods found in your local grocery store – not even at Whole Foods.

The Inuit hunted and fished for animals we don’t eat, and they ate them nose-to-tail – again, often raw. That’s why they didn’t need plants foods. They ate the animals that ate a variety of wild plants – and often they ate the digested plant matter found inside the animals, as the article explains. Yummy. I’d probably sprinkle some garlic salt on that side dish before digging in.

We’re critical of vegans for shunning meat, which provides necessary nutrients, then refusing to blame the meatless diet when their health tanks. So let’s be consistent here. If you’re not actually eating like an Inuit, an almost-plant-free diet is likely to leave you short on necessary nutrients. A small salad with dinner probably isn’t going to cut it. In most areas of the world, paleo humans consumed dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of local plants, including nuts, leaves, stems, roots and tubers.

But if you’d rather eat raw caribou liver and fermented stinkfish, I’ll be the first to applaud your dedication.

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When I switched to a low-carb diet some years ago, weight loss was only one of the benefits. My arthritis went away, as did restless legs at night, frequent belly aches, psoriasis on the back of my head, and occasional bouts of mild asthma (“mild” because I would wheeze when breathing, but never needed an inhaler).

I also seemed to gain a stronger resistance to colds, flu and sinus infections. When it seems everyone around me at the office is coming down with a nasty cold, I usually don’t have any symptoms at all. Or perhaps I’ll feel tired for a day or two with a bit of a drippy nose, and then it’s over.

One explanation that I read some years ago (sorry, don’t remember where) is that glucose and vitamin C compete for the same cell receptors – and glucose wins. So when blood glucose is elevated, vitamin C doesn’t get into the cells to do its job.

Okay, that makes sense. But I recently read another explanation that also makes sense and is backed up by at least one small but interesting study.

I came across the study while reading an article a reader sent on why the notion that we need five servings of fruits and vegetables per day to be healthy is nonsense. I don’t agree with the conclusion that we only need meat and fish to healthy, by the way. Perhaps that’s true if you’re eating wild-caught fish and caribou who feasted on nutrient-dense wild plants, but unless you live off the land in Alaska, that’s not your meat-and-fish diet. I do agree with the article’s conclusion that the five-per-day rule is arbitrary and encourages some people to consume too much sugar in the form of fruit.

Anyway, the article mentions a study in which researchers measured how efficiently the subjects’ white blood cells were at destroying bacteria and other microorganisms. They measured after fasting (which, interestingly enough, increased the kill-the-bugs efficiency), then measured again at several intervals after having the subjects consume 100 grams of various types of carbohydrates.

All the carbohydrate loads reduced the ability to destroy microorganisms. And in all cases, it took more than five hours for the blood to regain its normal bug-killing efficiency. But what’s interesting is how much the reduction varied. Here’s how much what the researchers call the phagocytic index (think of it as bug-killing ability) declined for the different types of carbohydrate:

Fructose – 45.1%
Sucrose – 44%
Orange Juice – 42.1%
Glucose – 40.5%
Honey – 39%
Starch – 13.4%

Starch clearly doesn’t reduce bug-killing ability to the same degree as simple carbohydrates. In fact, the researches stated that “Starch ingestion did not have this effect” … but there was an effect, so perhaps they meant that given the small number of subjects, it wasn’t statistically significant.

But wait … isn’t starch just glucose molecules bound together? Why yes, it is. But when you eat whole-food starches, it takes time for your body to break them down. You don’t get the same spike in glucose that you’d get from pure glucose or refined carbohydrates that turn to glucose almost instantly.

Most people also don’t pig out on whole-food starches like they do processed carbohydrates. My (ahem) “healthy” breakfast used to be a cup of Grape Nuts and a glass of orange juice. (The official serving size for Grape Nuts is half a cup. Good luck feeling full on that.) Assuming the orange juice was 6 ounces, that’s just over 100 grams of sugar and processed carbs – in other words, the carb load that would reduce my bug-killing ability by 40% or more, according to the study.

By contrast, a small potato (which I sometimes include as part of my sausage-and-egg breakfast) contains about 25 grams of unprocessed starch. Assuming the relationship between carb load and the phagocytic index is linear, that might reduce my bug-killing ability by 3.35%. Since I believe there are benefits from eating small servings of whole-food starches (feeding the gut bacteria, to name one), I’m fine with that.

When you think about the standard American diet, it’s no wonder people are so susceptible to colds and other infections. If the study is correct, we can pretty much guess what happens when people consume 100 or more grams of simple carbohydrates at, say, 8:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 6:00 PM and again at 10:00 PM for that late-night snack. They’d only be at full bug-killing capacity for five hours out of every 24.

According to the CDC, cold and flu season peaks in the months December through February. I don’t know if the viruses and bacteria are actually more prevalent during those months, or if it simply means more people succumb. Either way, I believe the holidays, with all that sugar and white four being snarfed up in the form of holiday treats, are at least a contributing factor. We lower our immune system’s capacity to fight infections while simultaneously attending gatherings full of people carrying the viruses and bacteria.

I usually cheat on Thanksgiving and enjoy some pumpkin pie, stuffing with the turkey, etc. Not this year. I’ve learned from past experience that if I’ve got any kind of inflammation going, wheat makes it far worse.

I have good days and bad days with the shoulder. On good days, it’s a mild ache. On bad days, it throbs and I reach for the painkiller.  I’ve only had one bad day in the last four, and I’d like to keep it that way.  Stuffing and pumpkin pie aren’t worth the pain, so I’ll skip them. I sure as heck don’t want a cold or flu to add to the discomfort.

Whether you cheat or not, I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving. And to our non-American readers, I hope you have a good Thursday.

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Interesting items from my inbox and elsewhere …

Don’t laugh. That would be callous and rude.

Oh, the irony. Here are some quotes from an online article in the Dallas News:

The president of the Dallas-based American Heart Association is recovering after suffering a minor heart attack Monday morning at the organization’s scientific conference in California.

The president of the AHA not only suffers a heart attack, he has the comic timing to do it at an AHA scientific conference. That almost tops all the times Al Gore showed up to give a speech on global warming just as the host city experienced a record-cold day.

Anyway …

John Warner, a cardiologist, vice president and CEO of UT Southwestern University Hospitals, was in stable condition with his family by his side at a California hospital. Doctors inserted a stent to open an artery, the association said in a prepared statement.

Dr. Warner is 52 years old – i.e., seven years younger than yours truly. Out of curiosity, I looked up the average age for a first heart attack among American males. It’s 66. The president of the AHA had his 14 years younger than the average.

The American Heart Association explained it this way in a tweet:

Sending all our love and support to American Heart president Dr. Warner as he recovers from a mild heart attack. Heart disease can strike anyone, at any time. That’s why we keep fighting.

Yeah, that’s one explanation. Another explanation is that the AHA’s advice for avoiding heart disease just plain sucks. That’s how I’d put. Dr. William Davis (also a cardiologist) employed a more professional tone in a post on his Wheat Belly blog:

I am hoping that, now that this disease has touched you personally, your eyes will be opened to the corrupt and absurd policies of conventional coronary care and the American Heart Association. Your life, after all, may be at stake in coming years. Contrary to the self-serving Tweet from AHA staff to you, heart attack risk is 1) quantifiable, 2) trackable, 3) stoppable and reversible.

American Heart Association officials should read their own studies.

Perhaps Dr. Warner could have avoided a heart attack if he and other AHA officials checked their own data and studies before issuing dietary advice. The AHA has tunnel vision when it comes to cholesterol. They keep insisting that lowering LDL is the key to a healthy heart. But as I pointed out in a 2010 post, data available on their own web site says otherwise:

People with “high” LDL make up 32.6% of the population, but account for just 27.9% of the heart attacks … We’ve been told for decades that the higher your LDL, the more likely you are to clutch your chest in the middle of the night. But if the “high” LDL group experiences slightly less than their share of heart attacks, how can that possibly be true?!

And here’s the conclusion from a study recently published in one of the AHA’s own journals:

Stepwise higher concentrations of nonfasting triglycerides were associated with stepwise higher risk of heart failure; however, concentrations of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol were not associated with risk of heart failure in the general population.

Higher LDL wasn’t associated with heart failure.  But higher triglycerides – which are produced by high-carb foods like the hearthealthywholegrains! the AHA recommends — were associated with heart failure.

Boy, I bet the AHA’s scientific council members nearly had a heart attack when they read that. No, wait …

NuVal is NoVal.

If Dr. David Katz weren’t such an arrogant jackass, I’d almost feel sorry for him. Talk about a rough couple of months. First the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine declared that the USDA’s dietary guidelines (which Dr. Katz insisted are “excellent and supported by the weight of the evidence”) aren’t based on good science.

And now there’s this, as recounted in a press release by the National Consumers League:

The National Consumers League (NCL) has welcomed news that a supermarket-based nutritional scoring system of food products called NuVal, which at its peak was used in 1,600 grocery stores nationwide, has been discontinued.

NuVal, as you may recall, was the brainchild of Dr. Katz. The nutrition scoring was so back-asswards, it gave sugar-laden soy milk a higher nutrition rating than a chicken breast, as I explained in a 2010 post.

Back to the NCL release:

“The NuVal rating system was fatally flawed, and its removal from grocery store shelves is a win for consumers,” said National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Its proprietary algorithmic formula – which was not made transparent to consumers or the scientific community – resulted in snack chips, soft drinks, and desserts being given as high or higher nutritional scores than some canned fruits and vegetables. We welcome the news that NuVal has been discontinued nationally.”

My guess is that the “proprietary algorithmic formula” was never made public because it consisted of Dr. Katz just making @#$% up as he went along … kind of like when he reviewed his own novel under a fake name and compared himself to Milton and Chaucer.

This is why Katz is hostile to the wisdom-of-crowds idea. He thinks we should stop sharing information and experiences in the “echo chamber” online and simply listen to (ahem) “experts” like him – and the president of The American Heart Association, of course.

Birthday Bash a Bust.

I turned 59 on Tuesday. I’d been looking forward to that birthday for months … not because 59 is a significant number, but because it was also the 20th anniversary of my first date with Chareva.

For those of you who haven’t heard the story, we met at an acting school in Chicago. I was 38, and she was 24 and just home from the Peace Corps. I was smitten, but figured the age difference was too great. I remember staring across the room at her during an improv class and thinking, “Damn. If only I were 10 years younger.”

She took a few Microsoft Office training classes at a Manpower office where I was a part-time trainer, and some female co-workers finally talked me into asking her out. They insisted she was as attracted to me as I was to her. A woman can tell, etc., etc. I finally got over my hesitations and asked her to dinner and a play on my 39th birthday. The rest is history.

Anyway, I’d planned on celebrating the anniversary with a big night out. Nice expensive meal, good bottle of wine and all that. The shoulder surgery put the kibosh on my plans. I can’t drink because of the painkillers, and I didn’t relish the idea of ordering a prime rib, then watching Chareva lean across the table to cut it into pieces for me. So we postponed the big night out to an unspecified future date.

Instead, she made a Fat Head pizza at home. Pretty good stuff, even if I am a bit embarrassed that people call it Fat Head pizza, since I had nothing to do with creating it. All I did was post the recipe.

For my birthday present to myself, I bought this:

I expect the surgeon will give me the green light to do leg presses at the gym soon. But full workouts are out of the question for several months. Same goes for heavy-duty farm work. If I don’t get enough exercise, I tend to start feeling lethargic, so I figured I can at least put in some long walks on the treadmill while I’m waiting the shoulder and bicep to fully heal.

As you may have noticed, the treadmill is strategically placed to allow for watching movies and football games while I walk.

In the meantime, I’ve graduated from the recliner to a makeshift desk. For the first 10 days or so after surgery, I was only comfortable leaning back in the recliner, so I worked with a laptop on my thighs. With the sling keeping my elbow pinned to my side, I can’t reach a keyboard on my desk – my chair doesn’t raise high enough.

But I have an IKEA table in my office than can be lowered quite a bit, so Chareva lowered it for me. At the current height, it looks like a table for a toddler. But it allows me to position a laptop pretty much on my lap, with an inch of tabletop separating my thighs and the keyboard. It ain’t much, but getting myself out of the recliner for my programming job feels like progress.

I just try to avoid looking out my office window at the lovely autumn weather and thinking how much I’d love to be out there splitting wood or playing some disc golf.

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As you can see, I’m able to do my programming work from the comfort of my big recliner … although Rascal occasionally hops up to remind me I should take a mental break and pay attention to something besides work.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that recovery is going to be a lot longer and more involved than I’d anticipated.

The surgeon originally predicted I’d be back to normal activity within six weeks. That’s because he thought all he’d have to do in there is shave down the bone spur that was causing collisions in the shoulder joint. And in fact, that part of the operation wasn’t traumatic at all. I have three small punctures in my skin where he went in with a scope. I get a bit of an ache in that part of the shoulder, but it’s nothing much.

The torn bicep tendon is another matter altogether. No scope for that procedure. He had to go in the old-fashioned way and slice open my arm. To re-attach the tendon (as I learned later), he cut a slit in the arm bone, then nailed the tendon into the slit with a tiny titanium spike. The bone will eventually grow back over and around the tendon and the spike (which will remain in my arm), and then the tendon will be fully attached.

Well, it turns out that when a surgeon cuts open your arm, slices away a portion of bone, then pounds a little spike into the bone, it hurts rather a lot. I’m allowed to take two Percocet tablets every four to six hours, according to the prescription. I don’t want to process that much acetaminophen and oxycodone through my liver, so after the first day recovering at home, I started limiting myself to one tablet every four hours. Then I stretched it to five hours, then six.

I’ve gotten to the point now where I take one tablet during the day, then two before bed. I need the two-pill dose before bed because if the pain isn’t completely numbed, I can’t sleep. I usually wake up five or six hours later with my shoulder throbbing, take one more pill, then go back to sleep for another three or four hours. During the day, I can mostly get by with cold packs to reduce the pain.

The pain level will continue to diminish. Unfortunately, it will take 10 weeks for the bone to grow around the re-attached bicep tendon, and I’ll be stuck wearing a sling that pins my arm to my body the entire time. I’m not supposed to flex the bicep muscle at all, not even to pick up a coffee cup. A physical therapist will move the arm for me, but the most I’m allowed to do on my own is lift the forearm with my other hand and place it on the laptop for working.

I won’t be able to fully exercise the arm for four to six months. Yeesh. I went through that the last time I had major shoulder surgery. As you’d expect, I lost rather a lot of muscle and strength – not just in the arms, but in the entire upper body, because you can’t do much upper-body work that doesn’t involve the arms.

So no farm work, no fixing up Sara’s cabin, nothing until spring. I’m not happy to be in this situation, but I still feel more gratitude than anything. The surgeon found the torn bicep tendon and fixed it. That was him being a good doctor and looking for problems that didn’t show up on the MRI. I can still do my programming job. I can still write blog posts.  After a bit more healing, I’ll be able to get back to working on the film.

If I feel the least bit tempted to complain, I remind myself that Chareva’s father lost the use of his left arm permanently after his stroke. My situation is temporary. It will take some time and effort to get back to full strength and normal activities, but I will get there.

In the meantime, there are plenty of books I’ve wanted to read and courses I’ve wanted to watch on Lynda.com. With no weekend farm work in my near future, I may as well get to them.

 

 

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