Archive for the “News and Reviews” Category

One of the managers at work has another project in mind he’d like me to take on.  Since I’m already working on a big project, he wondered aloud in a meeting if I’d consider cloning myself.

Heck, if I could clone myself, I would have already done it.  It’s almost October, and I still have miles to go on that book project — which I originally wanted to have written last October.   Programming job, blogging, book writing, weekend farm chores, a bit of R & R time with Chareva and the girls … there just aren’t enough hours in a week.

So for now, I’m going to reduce the blogging workload to one post per week on Thursday.  My Monday-evening writing sessions will be dedicated to the book instead of the blog.

Promise I’ll do my best to make the book worth the wait.



Comments 21 Comments »

Interesting items from my inbox and elsewhere …

The Many Uses For Hogs

I’m a big fan of the hog (when they’re not smacking me around in a chute, that is), but I had no idea they’re this useful:

When we tuck into a bacon sandwich, few of us wonder what has happened to the other parts of the pig whose life has been sacrificed so we can enjoy a juicy breakfast.

But one inquisitive writer set out to trace where all the body parts of one porker ended up.

Christein Meindertsma, 29, said: ‘Like most people, I had little idea of what happens to a pig after it leaves the abattoir so I decided to try to find out. I approached a pig farmer friend who agreed let me follow one of his animals.’

Identified by its yellow ear tag number, 05049, her pig trail ended with her identifying an incredible 185 different uses to which it was put – from the manufacture of sweets and shampoo, to bread, body lotion, beer and bullets.

Virtually nothing in a pig goes to waste. The snout from Pig 05049 became a deep-fried dog snack, while pig ears are sometimes used for chemical weapon testing due to their similarity to human tissue.

Tattoo artists even buy sections of pig skin to practise their craft on due to its similarity to human skin, while it is occasionally used with burns patients for the same reason.

I’m starting to feel a bit chagrined that all we got from our hogs was 500 pounds of meat. I could have been practicing to become a tattoo artist while covering myself with body lotion, drinking a beer, and firing some bullets at a loaf of bread.

Bacon Laser?

We may need add another use for hogs to the list:

A team of Harvard scientists has paved the way for a deadly laser pig weapon by demonstrating that, with a little encouragement, pig fat cells can be made to lase.

According to MIT Technology Review, Seok Hyun Yun and Matjaž Humar stimulated spheres of fat inside porcine cells with an optical fibre, causing them to emit laser light.

And here I thought my belly was glowing because I’m happy.

Handily, pig cells contain “nearly perfectly spherical” fat balls, which are conducive to lasing by resonance when supplied with a suitable light source. The team has also cheated the effect by injecting oil droplets into other cells.

Seok Hyun Yun, lead author of the report which appears in Nature Photonics, reckons an ultimate use of his work might be to deploy “intracellular microlasers as research tools, sensors, or perhaps as part of a drug treatment”.

Drug treatment, my foot. Let’s put all the research dollars into that deadly laser pig weapon. Imagine if we have troops overseas in some future war:

“Achmed, what’s that smell coming from the American lines? Is it …?”

“Yes! I believe it’s BACON! Run! Run before they turn the pig-laser on us!”

And if would-be intruders are scared away from my house by the aroma of saugage, that’s fine by me.

Eggs With My Pig Laser, Please

In my Science For Smart People speech, I mentioned that when some researchers find a correlation in an observational study, they assume they’re looking at cause and effect. I gave the example of a meta-analysis which prompted the lead researcher to announce to the media, “The studies showed a significant increase of new onset diabetes with regular egg consumption.”

Sure sounds like cause and effect, doesn’t it?  Based on other interviews, that’s indeed what the researcher believes.  But of course, if eggs actually caused diabetes, we wouldn’t see observational studies like this one:

Men who ate more than five eggs a week had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than men who ate about one a week only, according to researchers in Finland.

In a study with an average follow-up of almost 20 years with 2,332 participants, researchers noticed that those in the highest quartile for egg intake had a lower risk of developing diabetes than those in the lowest quartile when cholesterol and other factors were controlled for.

Yunsheng Ma, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said in an email to MedPage Today that the study “provides welcome news to support the 2015 dietary guidelines, which are expected to drop the limit of egg consumption for blood cholesterol concerns.”

Ma said that he was aware of six studies that examined egg consumption and diabetes. One showed an increased risk, he said, and the other five showed no association. “So these results are not in line with other findings,” wrote Ma.

So here’s the official score in Observational Study Stadium: one study shows a higher risk of diabetes with higher egg consumption, one shows a lower risk, and five show no association at all. That means there’s no cause-and-effect relationship, period. Any good science teacher could tell you that.

Speaking of which …

A Science Teacher’s Opinion of Super Size Me

Several people besides me have demonstrated they could lose weight while eating nothing but fast food. The latest happens to be a science teacher:

Iowa high school science teacher John Cisna weighed 280 pounds and wore a size 51 pants.

Then he started eating at McDonalds.  Every meal. Every day. For 180 days.

By the end of his experiment, Cisna was down to a relatively svelte 220 and could slip into a size 36.

Unlike me, Cisna didn’t embrace a high-fat diet:

Cisna left it up to his students to plan his daily menus, with the stipulation that he could not eat more than 2,000 calories a day and had to stay within the FDA’s recommended daily allowances for fat, sugar, protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients.

I much prefer my “@#$% the government recommendations” diet. But I definitely enjoyed Cisna’s comments about Super Size Me:

“As a science teacher, I would never show ‘Super Size Me’ because when I watched that, I never saw the educational value in that,” Cisna said. “I mean, a guy eats uncontrollable amounts of food, stops exercising, and the whole world is surprised he puts on weight?’

“What I’m not proud about is probably 70 to 80 percent of my colleagues across the United States still show ‘Super Size Me’ in their health class or their biology class. I don’t get it.”

I get it. They like the anti-McDonald’s message, so they toss critical thinking out the window … assuming they had any critical-thinking skills to toss.

It’s 2015 … So Let’s See How the ‘90s Viewed the ‘60s

I never watched the TV show Quantum Leap, but a reader sent me a link to this YouTube clip. It’s part of an episode in which the main character visits his parents in 1969. Skip ahead to the 12-minute mark:

The episode aired in 1990. That’s right about when arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria was in full swing. The main character goes back in time and is horrified by all the fat and cholesterol his father is eating. Now we can go back in time and be horrified by the fact that the main character is horrified.

Junior was right about one thing, though: Dear Old Dad needs to stop smoking.

If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t tell my dad to stop eating eggs and butter. I’d tell him to give up sugar and stop taking those @#$%ing statins. His 81st birthday would have been tomorrow, and man, I wish I could call him up, rib him about getting old, then wait for one of his witty comebacks.

It’s 2015 … So Everything Good Must Be Candy

This isn’t from a news item. It’s something I’ve noticed in a handful of TV commercials: vitamins and even fiber tablets now come in the form of gummies– for adults. I didn’t find a commercial online, but I did find this:

So apparently some people won’t take vitamins unless they taste like candy. If that’s not a sad comment on our dietary habits, I don’t know what is.


Comments 31 Comments »

Interesting items from my inbox and elsewhere …

We’re under-statinated!

Yup, according to this article about a Harvard study, even more people should be on statins:

A new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers has found that it would be cost-effective to treat 48-67% of all adults aged 40-75 in the U.S. with cholesterol-lowering statins. By expanding the current recommended treatment guidelines and boosting the percentage of adults taking statins, an additional 161,560 cardiovascular-related events could be averted, according to the researchers.

Well, why the heck stop at 67 percent? The way these guidelines keep expanding the definition of “at risk,” you’ll soon be considered at risk for a heart attack the day you’re born.  Best start adding statins to baby formula just to be sure.  I’m reminded of something Dr. Malcom Kendrick wrote in his terrific book Doctoring Data:

The boundaries that define illness have narrowed inexorably. When I first graduated from medical school in 1981, a high cholesterol level was anything above 7.5 mmol/L. Over the years, this level has fallen and fallen to the point where a ‘healthy’ level is now 5.0 mmol/L. I suspect it will soon be 4.0 mmol/L. Anything above this figure, and you have an increased risk of heart disease – allegedly. Considering that over 85% of the adult population in the western world has a cholesterol level higher than 5.0 mmol/L this is a quite amazing concept. I will admit that I have never been that brilliant at statistics. However, it seems to me that attempting to claim that more than 80% of people are at high risk of heart disease stretches the concept of ‘average’ to the breaking point – and well beyond.

Back to the article about the Harvard study:

“We found that the new guidelines represent good value for money spent on healthcare, and that more lenient treatment thresholds might be justifiable on cost-effectiveness grounds even accounting for side-effects such as diabetes and myalgia,” said Ankur Pandya, assistant professor of health decision science at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study.

Yeah, what’s a little muscle pain, memory loss or diabetes when you might reduce your risk of a heart attack by teensy-weensy percentage?

They also found that the optimal treatment threshold was particularly sensitive to patient preferences for taking a pill daily, which suggests that the decision to initiate statins for primary CVD prevention should be made jointly by patients and physicians.

When your physician sits down with you to make that joint decision, I suggest you give the answer I gave when a doctor suggested a statin for my (ahem) “elevated” cholesterol:

“I wouldn’t take a statin unless you held a gun to my head and I was convinced you’d pull the trigger.”

Fat makes you feel full … and makes you fat … and … say what?

Pronouncements by nutritionists often make me want to bang my head on my desk. Others just leaving me scratching my head in wonder. A reader sent me a link to an article about avocadoes which includes this gem from a nutritionist:

As with many other fruits, avocados’ primary risks are related to overconsumption. “Consuming too many avocados may lead to weight gain because of the fat content, even though it is an unsaturated fat,” said Flores. “It can also lead to nutritional deficiencies, since fat is digested slower and leaves you feeling fuller longer than [do] other nutrients.”

Go ahead, try to wrap your head around that one. I double-dog dare ya. In just two sentences we learned that 1) fat makes you feel full longer than other nutrients, but 2) fat also makes you fat. So I guess the key to weight loss is to eat foods that don’t make you feel full. Oh, and 3) feeling full leads to nutrient deficiencies.

Uh … uh … because you stop eating before you eat enough to get your nutrients? But then you gain weight?

I’m starting to think every time a nutritionist leaves a crowded room, the average IQ goes up by at least 10 points.

Soy sorry about the soybean oil.

Somebody get Paul Newman on the phone and convince him to change the formula for those Newman’s Own salad dressings. A new study reported in an online article suggests soybean oil induces weight gain:

Sugar has been blasted in recent years for its link to obesity and a slew of health problems, but now experts say the food world has a new problem child: Soybean oil.

Soybean oil, considered a “healthier” alternative to some oils that contain more saturated fat, actually leads to more weight gain than fructose, according to new research on mice that was published in the journal PLOS One.

Okay, how many scientists and health organizations have to announce that saturated fat isn’t actually bad for us before we stop seeing products labeled as “healthier” because they’re low in saturated fat? A hundred? A few thousand? All of them? Anyway …

For their research, scientists divided the mice into four groups and fed them each a different diet that contained 40 percent fat (similar to the average American diet). One diet used coconut oil (which largely consists of saturated fat), another used half coconut oil and half soybean oil (which primarily contains polyunsaturated, or “good” fat). The third and fourth diets had fructose added.

All four diets had the same number of calories, and the mice were fed the same amount of food.

Here’s what researchers discovered: Mice that were on the soybean oil diet gained 12 percent more weight than those that ate a fructose diet, and 25 percent more weight than mice on the coconut oil diet.

The mice on the soybean oil diet also had larger fat deposits in their bodies and fatty livers, and were more likely to have developed diabetes and insulin resistance. Mice on the fructose diet didn’t get off easy, either — they had similar issues, but to a less severe degree.

It’s only a mouse study, so let’s not get too excited. We can’t conclude that the effects on human beings would be the same. But here’s what I find most interesting: the ol’ calories-in/calories-out theory sure didn’t hold up in this study, did it? Yes, these are mice, but we’re told over and over that CICO is A LAW OF PHYSICS. Mice aren’t immune from the laws of physics.

Neither are humans, of course. If you gain weight, you absolutely, positively consumed more calories than you burned. But what this study demonstrated (again) is that the quality of the calories consumed affects the number of calories burned. To repeat a quote from the article:

All four diets had the same number of calories, and the mice were fed the same amount of food.

So only an idiot would believe the mice on the soybean-oil diet gained 25% more weight because of calories alone.

It could also be a matter of calories alone, certified dietitian-nutritionist Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Health. Soybean oil is a fat, and fats contain nine calories per gram, she says. However, carbohydrates such as fructose contain four calories per gram.

Every time a nutritionist leaves a crowded room …

This thing will stop your weight from ballooning?

Up, up and away …. or down, down and in your belly. A balloon is the latest, greatest weapon in the Just Eat Less! battlefront, according to this article:

The FDA has approved a gastric balloon to treat obesity, adding to a fat-busting device arsenal that includes gastric banding and a vagal nerve stimulator.

The ReShape dual balloon system is indicated for obese adults who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 to 40, and at least one other obesity-related comorbidity such as hypertension, high cholesterol, or diabetes.

It’s placed into the stomach using an endoscope, and once it’s inflated it is meant to diminish obesity by triggering feelings of fullness, “or by other mechanisms that are not yet understood,” according to the FDA press release.

It gives me great confidence in the FDA to hear that they’re approving medical devices whose mechanisms are not yet understood. But I totally understand that “triggering feelings of fullness” method for losing weight. I feel full after my meals. But those meals don’t include sugars or grains (or soybean oil) that induce weight gain.  In fact, I’ve lost weight while eating meals that made me feel full.

So what kind of dramatic weight loss does the up, up and away balloon induce?

In a 326-patient clinical trial, patients on the device lost an average of 14.3 pounds over 6 months, compared with 7.2 pounds for those in the control group.

Hmm, let’s do a little simple math here. The balloon-belly treatment group lost 14.3 pounds, while the control group lost 7.2 pounds. The trial lasted six months. Okay, hang on … subtract, divide … WOW!! That balloon was responsible for an additional weight loss of 1.18 pounds per month!

I think it would do more good if they filled it with helium and gave it a slow leak. Then people could at least sound like the munchkins from the Wizard of Oz when they say, “I walked around with an inflated balloon in my belly all month, and I only lost one extra pound? What the @#$% is the point of that?!”

Rice not nice to teeth?

This isn’t from an article; it’s from a book. When I commute to Nashville or spend five hours behind a mower cutting the back pastures, I listen to books. The one I just finished is Helmet For My Pillow, by Robert Leckie. If you saw the terrific HBO series The Pacific, Leckie was one of the marines featured. The audiobook is read by James Badge Dale, the same actor who portrayed Leckie in the series, which is a nice touch. You can listen to part of the book and then watch an episode of the series (as I did last week), and you’re hearing the same character speaking with the same voice.

Anyway, in Helmet For My Pillow, Leckie describes how after a battle, some marines would go prospecting in the mouths of dead Japanese soldiers. Why? Because at the time, Japanese dentists filled cavities with gold – and according to Leckie, some of the Japanese soldiers had a treasure of gold in their mouths. Lots and lots of cavities.

The Japanese weren’t eating lots of sugar in the 1940s – even today, the Japanese consume less than half as much sugar per capita as Americans. But they were certainly eating plenty of white rice in the years before WWII. In fact, on Guadalcanal, the U.S. navy was forced to withdraw for awhile, which left the marines stranded without a food supply. They ended up living on rations captured from the Japanese — which mostly consisted of rice.

So I’m thinking whatever its status as a safe starch, perhaps white rice isn’t so great for keeping a pearly smile.

Good thing I don’t much like the stuff.


Comments 77 Comments »

I’m just about out of the woods on the big work project.  I’ve been working long days partly to get ‘er done, and partly to front-load my billable hours so I can work shorter days next week.  Weather permitting, I’ll be spending part of my days next week in the front pastures, playing disc golf with Jimmy Moore.  It’s become an annual tradition — which for some reason we always observe during a July heatwave.

Speaking of Jimmy, The Ketogenic Cookbook: Nutritious Low-Carb, High-Fat Paleo Meals to Heal Your Body (which he wrote with Maria Emmerich) is now available.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I suspect he may have a copy with him when he arrives on Saturday.

As you probably know, I don’t measure ketones or aim for ketosis, but I always enjoy thumbing through new low-carb/keto/paleo cookbooks just because some of the recipes look awesome.  I still enjoy plenty of high-fat meals that would be considered ketogenic from a macronutrient standpoint.

We still have 500 pounds or thereabouts of pork in our downstairs freezer, so I’ll have to see if Jimmy has any especially good recipes for Boston Butt.  If not, there’s always sausage …



Comments 28 Comments »

Chareva and I were the guests on a recent episode of the AgriCast Digest podcast show.  We talked about chickens, of course, but also about diet and health, why we decided to move to a small farm, the upcoming kids’ book, etc.

You can listen to the episode here.


Comments 14 Comments »

Many of you are probably familiar with Dr. David Perlmutter because of his book Grain Brain. I recently finished his follow-up book, Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain–for Life. I can’t quote from it directly because I listened to the audiobook instead of reading a paper copy. (That’s what I do while spending five hours at a time behind a lawn mower on our property: listen to books.) But I can tell you I consider this book a must-read, especially for low-carbers.

I say “especially for low-carbers” because there’s a belief in the low-carb community (which I once shared) that fiber is useless. That belief stems from studies showing no relationship between fiber intake and rates of colon cancer – and that’s why most of us were told to eat our fiber: to prevent colon cancer.

However, the fiber in those studies tended to come from whole grains – which Dr. Perlmutter of course doesn’t want us to eat in the first place, since grains can damage our intestines. Perhaps other fibers do protect against cancer.

But even if they don’t, cancer isn’t the whole story. Not by a long shot. The real benefit of plant fibers is in feeding our gut bacteria. Dr. Perlmutter pounds home that point over and over in Brain Maker: if you want to be healthy, both physically and mentally, you have to feed your beneficial gut bacteria — period, end of story. Those gut bugs want to eat plant fibers. They need to eat plant fibers. In fact, Dr. Perlmutter recommends you fill two-thirds of your plate with plant foods.

Since he’s a hero in the low-carb community, I’m delighted to see this message coming from him. Perhaps some people with a nyaaa, fiber, who needs it? attitude will be inspired to change their minds. As I wrote in some posts last year about why I started adding resistant starch to my diet, if there’s a potential danger in a very low-carb diet, I believe it’s in not feeding the gut bacteria. Dr. Perlmutter is very much on board with a carb-restricted diet, but teaches the reader how to add those all-important fibers without relying on high-starch or high-sugar foods.

As the title suggests, much of the book explains the connection between a healthy gut and a healthy brain. Dr. Perlmutter recounts a number of cases where rebuilding the gut microbiome (with diet or, in a few cases, a fecal transplant) cured patients of depression, or ADHD, or autism, or Tourette’s Syndrome. In some cases, the gut-cure worked after everything else had failed.

But I’m guessing the title is also partly the result of marketing. When your runaway best-seller is named Grain Brain, you’d best put Grain or Brain in the title of your next book. Brain Maker is really about the profound effect the gut microbiome has on the entire body, brain included.

Let’s take an example near and dear to the heart of many readers: weight loss. Dr. Perlmutter describes experiments in which gut bacteria were transferred from thin mice (or thin people) to obese mice. The obese mice became lean. It works the same in reverse, too. When researchers disrupt the gut microbiome of lean mice and transfer gut bugs from fat mice, the lean mice become fat.

As Dr. Perlmutter explains, there are strains of gut bacteria that seem to induce obesity and strains that seem to protect against it. Eating fermented vegetables and other fermented foods helps to populate our guts with protective bacteria.  If they’re fed the right kinds of plant fibers, they flourish. But without the right fibers, their numbers dwindle. They can, of course, be devastated by antibiotics. There’s also evidence that certain pesticides and even artificial sweeteners like aspartame can either diminish the number of good gut bacteria or encourage overgrowth of the bad bacteria.

Listening to the book got me thinking about two classes of people: lean vegetarians and low-carbers who lose weight but stall well above their goal. Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest low-carbers become vegetarians instead. As I explained in Fat Head and quite a few posts, I grew fatter on a vegetarian diet, not thinner. But my vegetarian diet included lots of grains and few of the types of plant fibers Dr. Perlmutter recommends. Perhaps the vegetarians who really and truly eat lots of vegetables (as opposed to grains and soy) stay lean partly by maintaining a healthy gut microbiome – not because they give up meat, but because they eat lots of beneficial plant fibers.

On the flipside, perhaps some low-carbers stall well above their goal weight because they don’t eat beneficial plant fibers. (For the record, I also believe some people are metabolically damaged to such a degree, they can never be lean without starving themselves, which is unhealthy.) If your diet consists of meat, eggs, butter, cream, more meat, a broccoli sprig here and there, plus a side of meat, there’s not much there to feed your beneficial gut bacteria. Toss in some diet sodas with aspartame, and you could be starving the gut bugs that protect against obesity while encouraging the proliferation of gut bugs that induce it.

So what should you be eating to feed the beneficial bacteria? Like I said, I don’t have a paper copy of the book, but the audio version came with a PDF file of recipes. The common ingredients Dr. Perlmutter recommends include onions, garlic, jicama, blueberries, chick peas, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, fibrous green vegetables of all kinds, plus plenty of pickled and fermented foods. (Apparently the Scandinavians knew what they were doing when they came up with pickled herring.)

I’d add one suggestion of my own: tiger nuts. I understand why people with blood-sugar issues are hesitant to eat the cooked-and-cooled potatoes or green bananas recommended by Paul Jaminet and others as sources of resistant starch, but I doubt tiger nuts will take anyone’s blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride. They’re 40% fat by calories, with lots of fiber and resistant starch — the type of starch your gut bugs love to digest and turn into short-chain fatty acids in the process.

I’ve been eating a small dish of tiger nuts almost daily for a year or so, and I’m pretty sure my gut bugs have never been happier. My digestion is the best it’s ever been, on any diet. I also sleep more deeply, dream more vividly, and wake up more rested than I used to.

But wherever you get your plant fibers, please get them. (Well, not from grains, of course.) As the book explains, gut bacteria account for 90% of all the cells in your body. We evolved with them, and they evolved with us. They’re as much a part of you as your heart and your liver, and nearly as important. Take good care of them, and they’ll take good care of you.

Brain Maker is an excellent guide for doing just that.


Comments 79 Comments »