Archive for the “News and Reviews” Category
Dec 03 2014
Nov 18 2014
No post last night because I got back from Chicago much later than I’d planned. I left Chareva’s parents’ house in the morning and made good time all day … then hit a dead-standstill traffic jam in southern Kentucky that lasted for hours. Chareva told me later there had been an accident involving a semi. Good thing I had the trusty audiobook player. I don’t like being parked for hours on an interstate highway, but I treated it as extra reading time.
The original motivation for my trip north was a reunion of “The Schmat Guys,” a.k.a. the four of us who have been in the same football pool for 25 years. (One of the Schmat Guys is Dave Jaffe, whose very amusing Write Good! blog I’ve quoted here a few times. I’m the current holder of the Mista Schmat Guy trophy, but not doing so well this season.)
Back when we all lived in Chicago, we met every Sunday at the Red Lion pub to watch the games, drink pints, and insult each other’s bad picks. Now we’re all old married men (one divorced), and only two of the old married men still live in the Chicago area. It had been at least 15 years since we were all in the same room at the same time. We fixed that with a gathering at the Red Lion on Sunday. The owner remembered us by name, so I guess we probably spent more time there than we should have.
Anyway, as I mentioned in my last post, it occurred to me that Dr. William “Wheat Belly” Davis lives near Milwaukee, so I checked to see if he might perhaps be in town and available for an on-camera interview. He was. So I spent pretty much all of Saturday with him. Interview first, then we went out for an early dinner and a long conversation at a restaurant in Milwaukee.
I got to know Dr. Davis a bit during the 2012 cruise (we were at the same dinner table), but this was the first chance I had to talk with him one-on-one for an all-day stretch. It turns out he’s as fascinated with the whole Wisdom of Crowds effect as I am. Given what’s happened with the national dietary guidelines, bad advice from organizations like the American Heart Association, all the drug-pushing doctors out there, etc., etc., Dr. Davis believes seeking advice from the crowd is a necessary form of self-defense.
When I opened my menu at the restaurant, I saw the Wisdom of Crowds effect right there in front of me. I’m paraphrasing from memory, but printed above the list of burger combinations was something like this:
All our hamburgers are freshly ground from 100% grass-fed beef!
Was anybody demanding grass-fed beef five years ago? If so, I wasn’t aware of it. But I’m seeing more and more restaurants meeting what is obviously a growing demand.
At the BMI office where I work, there’s something called Food Truck Wednesday, which means employees can patronize a food truck in the parking lot during lunch hour. I recently noticed that one of the vendors, Hoss Burgers, also brags on their menus that the burgers are made from 100% grass-fed beef.
A lot of us have very legitimate complaints about the food supply, with all its processed garbage and meats that come from grain-fed animals raised in what amount to meat factories. A question I’m asked now and then is How do we change this horrible system?
We don’t have to change the system. All we have to do is buy foods that enhance health and help spread the word to the crowd. You can complain all you want about the evils of capitalism, but even the greediest capitalist can only sell you what you’re willing to buy — the exception being when government takes your money and does your buying for you.
Remember when every damned thing on the grocery shelves was labeled low-fat or zero cholesterol? That was the market responding to consumer demand. Yes, the federal government helped create that demand with lousy dietary advice, but it was nonetheless consumer purchases driving what was produced.
That’s still how it works. But now the Wisdom of Crowds effect is kicking in and changing what people demand. When food trucks are offering grass-fed burgers, it means somebody in management noticed a change in consumer preference. When restaurants add a new Gluten Free section to their menus, it means somebody in management noticed a change in consumer preference. As more and more people choose grass-fed meats and other healthier foods, that’s what the producers will produce.
The burger I had in Milwaukee (a half-pounder with Havarti cheese, onions and mushrooms) was excellent, by the way. So was the dinner conversation with a brilliant doctor I believe is responsible for making the crowd a bit wiser – and probably for some of those Gluten Free sections on menus.
Even before I read his latest book, Dr. William Davis struck me as a man who will never be satisfied with how much he knows about diet and health. I suspect that while I sit here writing this review, he’s poring over new research and incorporating it into his thinking.
On the first low-carb cruise I attended more than four years ago, Dr. Davis gave a speech on the importance of controlling blood sugar, with lots of information on the damage that occurs inside our bodies if we don’t. If he mentioned wheat at all in that speech, it was probably in reference to how wheat spikes glucose. I was aware of his Track Your Plaque program and read his blog now and then, but after his cruise speech, I mostly thought of him as the mind your blood sugar doctor.
Barely a year later, I received an advance copy of a book titled Wheat Belly and was blown away by all the information about the damage caused by grains. It seemed that every other page, I was mumbling Oh my god, I had no idea to myself. Up to that point, I had been limiting my grain consumption mostly to keep my carb intake down. I still ate a hamburger bun or a serving of pasta now and then if I could squeeze it in under my carb limit. But as I explained in the follow-up section of the Fat Head Director’s Cut, that all changed after reading Wheat Belly. Now I avoid grains because they’re grains, not because of the carb count.
I don’t know how many millions of people have read Wheat Belly, but here’s an indication of the book’s reach: two casual acquaintances who only know me as a programmer have mentioned it to me as something I ought to read. Some months ago I was having lunch with one of the partners at the tech agency that placed me in my current job. We’d met for lunch a few times before, and he always ordered broccoli-cheese soup in a bread bowl. But on this occasion, he ordered a chef salad. When I mentioned the change, he said, “I don’t touch wheat anymore. I read this amazing book called Wheat Belly about how bad modern wheat is for your health. You might want to check it out.”
So I casually mentioned that Dr. Davis and I were seated at the same dinner table on the previous year’s low-carb cruise, that I’d roasted him and the other speakers during the pre-cruise dinner, that we correspond occasionally, and yes, I was familiar with his work. That was kind of a fun moment.
Anyway, as Ellen DeGeneres would say, my point — and I do have one — is this: given the stellar success of Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis could have declared he’d done his part to save humanity, ridden off into the sunset and spent the rest of his life playing golf or whatever. But he didn’t. He kept right on researching and writing, apparently without taking a break.
Wheat Belly Total Health, his latest book, isn’t Wheat Belly Lite or Wheat Belly Rewarmed. Most of what I read in the 300-plus pages was new information not found in Wheat Belly. (As usual with my busy schedule, I didn’t finish the book until after it was released, so pardon the late review.)
If the one-sentence description of Wheat Belly is “Here are all the reasons wheat is bad for you,” then the one-sentence description of Wheat Belly Total Health is “Now that you’ve been persuaded to stop eating grains, here’s how to undo the damage and regain your health.”
Well, okay, there’s still some persuading going on in Part One of the book. But it comes in the form of Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in addition to all the crimes we’ve already attributed to this dastardly cereal killer, we now have evidence of many, many more.
Here’s an example from the second chapter:
WGA [wheat germ agglutinin] also mimics the effects of insulin on fat cells. When WGA encounters a fat cell, it acts just as if it were insulin, inhibiting activation of fat release and blocking weight loss while making the body more reliant on sugar sources for energy. WGA also blocks the hormone leptin, which is meant to shut off appetite when the physical need to eat has been satisfied. In the presence of WGA, appetite is not suppressed, even when you’re full.
What a bargain: high blood sugar provoking high insulin, plus a lectin that acts like another dose of insulin, plus a short-circuiting of the “I’m full” signal. Betcha can’t eat just one.
When I read the Perfect Health Diet book, I was impressed partly because Paul Jaminet was the only diet-and-health guru I knew of who addressed the importance of a healthy gut microbiome. I can now add Dr. Davis to that list. Wheat Belly Total Health includes quite a bit of information on gut bacteria and how to properly feed them:
Over the last few years, there has been a new scientific appreciation for the composition of human microbiota. [Yeah, it’s new. My spell-checker doesn’t even recognize “microbiota.” – TN] We know, for instance, experimental animals raised in an artificial sterile environment and thereby raised with a gastrointestinal tract that contains no microorganisms have impaired immunity, are prone to infections, are less efficient at digestion, and even develop structural changes of the gastrointestinal tract that differ from creatures that harbor plentiful microorganisms. The microorganisms that inhabit our bodies are not only helpful they are essential for health.
Care to guess whether wheat and other cereal grains are good or bad for your gut flora? The irony is that we’re told to eat those healthywholegrains because they contain fiber. Our gut bacteria feed on fiber – but not the fiber you get from a bowl of whole-grain cereal:
We are given advice to include more fiber, especially insoluble cellulose (wood) fibers from grains, in our diets. We then eat breakfast cereals or other grain-based foods rich in cellulose fibers, and lo and behold, it does work for some, as indigestible cellulose fibers, undigested by our own digestive apparatus as well as undigested by bowel flora, yield bulk that people mistake for a healthy bowel movement. Never mind that all of the other disruptions of digestion, from your mouth on down, are not addressed by loading up your diet with wood fibers.
After recounting the damage grains (especially modern wheat) can do to our guts, brains, hearts, sex hormones, thyroids, etc. in Part One, Dr. Davis moves on to his prescription for a health-enhancing diet in Part Two, Living Grainlessly: Restoring the Natural State of Human Life.
Grains can be addicting because of the opiate-like effects in the brain, so the first chapter in Part Two offers strategies for easing the withdrawal symptoms: choosing a non-stressful time to ditch the grains, drinking enough liquid, getting enough fat and salt in the diet, possibly taking some supplements such as magnesium. But most of Part Two is about which foods to eat and which to avoid. The foods to eat include those that feed the good gut bacteria:
An emerging role is being recognized for so-called “prebiotics.” These fibers, such as fructooligosaccharides and inulin from sources such as tubers and legumes, are indigestible by humans but digestible by bowel flora, which convert these fibers to short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate. Butyrate is proving to play an essential role in maintaining a health intestinal lining, including repair of “tight junctions” between intestinal cells disrupted by grain consumption. This repair restores normal barrier functions against undesirable components from other bacteria and reduces colon cancer risk.
So Dr. Davis is on board with the benefits of fiber and resistant starch from foods like tubers, but he doesn’t consider those benefits an invitation to eat mashed Russet potatoes. He makes the same point in the book that I made in a recent post: yes, your paleo ancestors ate ground tubers, but those tubers were tough and fibrous. They’re not the metabolic equivalent of a low-fiber white potato mashed with cream and butter.
He still cares very much about avoiding glucose spikes, so unlike Paul Jaminet, Dr. Davis recommends a low-carb diet that limits the starches – 45 grams or so per day of non-fiber carbs, spread over three meals. But unlike the early version of the Atkins diet (at least as perceived) the diet Dr. Davis recommends isn’t all meat, eggs and cheeses with a green salad thrown in. He’s adamant about feeding the gut bacteria. So he recommends raw potatoes, green bananas, legumes in small portions, and lots of high-fiber vegetables – some cooked, some raw, some fermented. Everything he recommends is of the real-food variety; no processed foods, whether or not they contain grains.
Ditching the grains and switching to a whole-foods, grain-free diet is a huge step. But in Part Three of Wheat Belly Total Health, Dr. Davis makes a crucial point: yes, giving up grains halts the assault on our health … but that alone, or even combined with a good diet, may not be enough to fully recover our health. Repair and rebuilding can take some focused effort. That’s what Part Three is about.
Not surprisingly, restoring gut health is a big part of the process, and Dr. Davis recommends some specific probiotics to repopulate microbiomes that are all out of whack thanks to years of grains and other junk foods. He also recommends (depending on the reader’s current health status) a list of supplements ranging from vitamin D to iodine.
The final few chapters deal with metabolism, weight loss, hormones and thyroid health. There are descriptions of the lab tests doctors typically order for various metabolic conditions (including thyroid disorders) as well as explanations of what all those numbers mean. (As many of you know by now, it’s not always a good idea to count on your doctor to interpret lab tests for you.)
In addition to being a dogged researcher, Dr. Davis is a talented writer. His sentences flow, he injects humor throughout the book, and he explains concepts clearly. In spite of the wealth of information — much of it dealing with biochemistry — I never found myself having to re-read a paragraph to grasp the meaning. Doctors could learn a lot from this book, but it’s intended to consumer-friendly, and it is.
I interviewed Dr. Davis on camera during the 2012 low-carb cruise. Some of that interview ended up in the Directors’ Cut version of Fat Head, and I’ve been saving the rest for the DVD companion to our upcoming book. Wheat Belly Total Health contains so much new information, I kept thinking I wish I had him on video saying this stuff while reading it.
Well, it so happens I’m driving to Chicago this weekend to hang out with some old friends (and yeah, we’re all old now). That’s been on the schedule for months. It also so happens that Dr. Davis lives near Milwaukee, which is a reasonable drive from Chicago. So I figured what the heck and emailed to see if was in town and available for another interview. Yes and yes.
So I’ll be gone for the next few days, spending much of the time in my car or otherwise disengaged from the internet. I’ll answer comments when I can, but don’t be surprised if they sit there for a day.
When we scheduled the interview, Dr. Davis suggested we head out for lunch afterwards. I’m looking forward to that — and I’m pretty sure we won’t be visiting the Olive Garden for bread and pasta.
It’s November already, so I’m sure by now some of you are asking yourselves the same question you ask every year: What the @#$% am I going to get my mom for Christmas?
Allow me to offer a suggestion:
No, I’m not offering to sell my wife. She’s modeling our latest Fat Head wearable product, the Cool Moms Cook With Butter apron (which she also happened to design). Here’s the close-up view:
The apron is a nice holiday red, and it’s made from stain-resistant cotton twill. There are two front pockets and a pen pocket – so Mom can keep a notebook and pen handy, thus making it easy to write A dozen boxes of Kerrygold on the grocery list.
Like with our Wheat Is Murder t-shirts, postage for shipping overseas is more than double the cost of shipping within North America, so if you order from outside the U.S. or Canada, please click the order button for overseas shipping. (Unlike with our Wheat Is Murder t-shirts, we didn’t have to take a wild guess about how many to order for each of several sizes. The aprons are one-size-fits-all.)
Shipping time within the U.S. should be 3-4 days. Based on what people told me about the t-shirts, I’m guessing shipping to places like Sweden and Australia will be more like 2-3 weeks.
The cool mom in our house has already informed me she’s keeping the apron she modeled. No problem; I hope we sell out this batch and have to order a LOT more.
Here’s the link to the Fat Head online store.
Oct 01 2014
Hi again, Fatheads.
This wasn’t on the agenda, but I just had to see if anyone else caught it. If you’re a veteran Fathead, you’ll remember Tom’s “Science for Smart People” presentation he gave on the Low Carb Cruise a couple of years ago. By veteran, I mean a ways back since this was was from over three years ago.
Anyway, towards the beginning, when he’s talking about how Pattern Recognition is pretty much hard-wired into us, he uses the kids in horror flicks as an counter point. I’ve think I’ve got the relevant section queued up here (if not, drag it to around the 5:45 mark) — it runs for about a minute:
Okay, that always stuck in my mind. Then, a couple of nights ago, I saw this commercial:
Didn’t know if any of you also found it hilarious, albeit vaguely familiar!
BTW, if you’ve never watched “Science for Smart People,” you owe it to yourself to check it out, or maybe watch it again. You might also share it with your or your kid’s Science teacher.
The Older Brother
Sep 16 2014
Here’s another callback for you longtime Fatheads. It’s from the end of a two-parter I wrote on the State of Illinois’ attempt last year to regulate raw milk producers out of business, “The Older Brother’s notes from the sausage factory floor…” At the end, after over a hundred people showed up to politely but loudly protest the state’s heavy-handed actions, I noted:
“I’ve heard from a couple of folks who think the regulators got an education on raw milk… Maybe the bureaucrats would change things up substantially. Maybe even remove impediments to raw milk while setting a few common-sense protocols, as it fits in with the buy local/real foods programs the state and others talk up.”
Feeling I had a better understanding of bureaucratic sausage-making than those good, honest people, I ended with…
“I’m guessing they’ll lay low for a few months or more, and then pass pretty much all of those rules as is, maybe without the 100 gallon limit. Or maybe they’ll bump the limit to 500 gallons. But they didn’t learn anything, and they’re there to pass those rules.
It’s what they do.”
… Well. Sorry to be right again, but really, it was an easy call.
Apparently, in the last week or so, the FDA-funded lickspittles at the Illinois Department of Public Health went ahead and promulgated new rules concerning raw milk because… well, because there were no rules and how can you just let people mind their own business without someone writing rules to give them permission to do their own business and regulations detailing how that business is to be minded.
This go-round, they’ve posted for comment regulations that will require anyone selling raw milk to gather the name, address, and phone number of anyone they sell raw milk to and turn it over to the state on request. They will also be prohibited from milking a cow with any dirt on its udder or belly, and be required to only milk cows in a building with floors and walls that can be cleaned. In other words, you can’t milk a cow outdoors, and you’ll have to build a building for several tens of thousands of dollars to do it in.
These are, of course, only a start. Once they get some regulations on the books, they can keep expanding them and “re-interpreting” them until they’ve driven all raw milk producers out of the market. Mission accomplished!
I wouldn’t have known about this as my local paper — the one in the state capital and the middle of ag country — didn’t actually mention any of this. It did, however, helpfully print a letter to the editor from one of the FDA’s useful idiots – the (prepare to be impressed) president of The Illinois State Medical Society. Here’s a few of what the medical establishment’s public mouthpiece seems to think are compelling arguments on why educated, intelligent, health-conscious people shouldn’t be allowed to choose to consume milk in the way it’s been consumed for the last 7,500 years or so…
As the Illinois Department of Public Health advances rules governing the sale of raw milk, the Illinois State Medical Society remains opposed to the sale and distribution of “raw” or unpasteurized milk in any form. Federal law prohibits dairies from distributing raw milk across state lines in final package form and about half of U.S. states prohibit the sale of raw milk completely.
Correct answer: So what?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other medical and health organizations, raw milk that is not pasteurized may contain a wide variety of harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and other bacteria, that can cause serious illness and, in extreme cases, death. And studies show that children, particularly, are most susceptible to illness due to consuming unpasteurized raw milk.
You mean, there might be germs in milk? Like just about any other food out there. Only as the statistics show, not so much. The nice thing about raw milk is that, unlike pasteurized milk, it also contains all kinds of good bacteria that, in addition to controlling the baddies mentioned, also brings both documented and anecdotal benefits. Probably in about another twenty years, the adherents to the type of medicine practiced by the Illinois State Medical Society will discover the wonders of the gut biome. (Don’t tell them now – you’ll ruin the surprise!)
Pasteurization, simply put, is heating milk to a high temperature and then rapidly cooling it to eliminate harmful bacteria, yet maintaining the milk’s freshness for an extended period of time. Even the Illinois Farm Bureau advocates that individuals drink pasteurized milk.
Wow. You mean, the industry group representing the commodity dairy producers who keep their livestock in confinement pens, inject them with hormones and antibiotics, then mix milk from thousands of cows from different producers, to be shipped hundreds of miles, think people should only drink pasteurized milk? The ones who also put artificial coloring and aspartame in their products?
Now, if you’re going to drink milk from one of these producers, you damned well better want it to be pasteurized. That has nothing to do with the environment of healthy dairy cows raised on pasture with sales going to people within driving distance, who can walk around those fields if they want to see what conditions their food is being produced in.
(Don’t worry about that aspartame thing though. The FDA of which the guardian of our health at the Illinois State Medical Society speaks is engaged in an effort, at the behest of these same producers, to allow aspartame to not be listed in the ingredients of your store-bought, “healthy” milk.)
And these commodity producers, having seen milk sales drop over 20% to the lowest levels in thirty years, are more than happy to advise the FDA, the USDA, the Medical Society, and any other economic illiterates, on how to best put small farmers — who are producing a healthy, ethical, vastly superior product at premium prices — out of business.
I’d say that if the good doctor’s medical expertise is in line with his depth of understanding exhibited in the areas of epidemiology and economics, it would explain why there are over 90,000 medical malpractice-related hospital deaths a year.
That’s an interesting number, because coincidentally, according to an excellent breakdown of the real numbers done by Chris Kesser here, that’s about the odds (1 in 94,000) of a person even getting ill from raw milk (not dead – just a reportable tummy ache). The odds of being hospitalized due to raw milk are around 1 in 6 million, or about three times less than dying in an airplane crash. As for dying, well that’s hard to calculate, since the last reportable deaths associated with raw milk were in the late 1990’s, and those were from homemade “bathtub” queso cheese, which was assuredly contaminated by the maker.
Now, back in 1985, both the worst case of food poisoning deaths (52) and the worst case of salmonella poisoning deaths (possibly up to 12) since the CDC began keeping records in 1970 resulted from consuming dairy products. However, both of those cases involved pasteurized milk. You know — the safe kind.
In fact, there has never been a death reported from just drinking raw milk. That’s according to the CDC. But it took a Freedom of Information Act request to get that out of them, cause it tends to mess with their mission, which is to produce press releases that say “Majority of dairy-related disease outbreaks linked to raw milk.”
Not that food can’t kill you. Since that last death associated with raw milk products, people have died from spinach, green onions, cantaloupe, peanuts, drinking water, apple juice, various types of meats, and again, pasteurized milk products, among others.
If the sundry State Medical Societies worked on “physician, heal thyself” and “first, do no harm” instead of acting as the PR wing for the FDA, CDC, USDA and other Big Ag-owned agencies, they could save countless lives. Up to 90,000 just for starts. That’s without even touching all the havoc and suffering they create helping out their other good buddies over at the pharmaceutical companies.
NOTE: If you live in Illinois, you’ve got until October 20th to let your elected representatives know that you’re not interested in less freedom, crappier food choices, and putting small farmers out of business. Remember, nothing gets a bureaucrat’s attention like a lawmaker who’s getting an earful from irritated (but polite, please) constituents two months before an election.
the Older Brother