Archive for the “Real Food” Category

A reader sent me a link to an article about how actor James Franco credits McDonald’s for keeping body and soul together when he was struggling financially.  That’s not the point of this post, but here are some interesting quotes:

Actor James Franco has written a lengthy endorsement of his former employer, McDonald’s. Franco writes in a Washington Post op-ed that in the late ’90s he was a struggling actor living in Los Angeles. He was fired from a coffee shop and golf course and couldn’t find acting jobs.

He became desperate after his parents cut him off financially.

“Someone asked me if I was too good to work at McDonald’s,” Franco writes. “Because I was following my acting dream despite all the pressure not to, I was definitely not too good to work at McDonald’s.”

Franco says he began working in the drive-thru and practicing foreign accents on customers.

He was able to leave his job at McDonald’s after booking a Super Bowl commercial with Pizza Hut. Since then, he’s become one of the most successful actors in the industry, starring in The Interview, 127 Hours, and Spiderman. But Franco says he still feels affection for the fast food chain.

“I was treated fairly well at McDonald’s. If anything, they cut me slack,” Franco writes. “And, just like their food, the job was more available there than anywhere else. When I was hungry for work, they fed the need.”

Okay, that’s nice.  It’s refreshing to see a Hollywood type who doesn’t consider McDonald’s an evil empire.  (Full disclosure:  I didn’t know who James Franco was until I read the article.  It’s a sign of my impending decline into Old Fogeyhood.  I see headlines about pop stars and think, “Who the heck is that?”)

But it wasn’t the article itself that caught my interest.  It was a linked article about how McDonald’s plans to turn around its flagging sales:

McDonald’s unveiled on Monday its massive turnaround plan to revive business.

“Our recent performance has been poor. The numbers don’t lie,” McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a 23-minute video overview of the plan. “I will not shy away from the urgent need to reset this business.”

Easterbrook said the company would strip away layers of management, focus more on listening to customers, and act faster to adapt to consumers’ changing tastes.

McDonald’s same-store sales have fallen for six straight quarters in the US, where the company is battling a pervasive public perception that its food is unhealthy and over-processed. The chain has also been hurt by a series of food safety scandals in Asia, which contributed to a 15% loss in net income last year.

The company will be restructured into four market segments: the US; international lead markets (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, UK); high-growth markets (China, Italy, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands); and foundational markets (the remaining markets in the McDonald’s system).

McDonald’s will also refranchise 3,500 restaurants through 2018, bringing its total percentage of franchised restaurants to 90% from 81% globally. The restructuring is expected to save the company $300 million annually by 2017, according to the company.

Going forward, improving food quality will be a top priority, Easterbrook said.

There were paragraphs in the article about how the company plans to restructure, re-franchise, etc., to save money.  I don’t know or care what those involve.  It’s the food quality issue that I believe will eventually make or break McDonald’s.

When Super Size Me was released, there were gleeful predictions among fans that it would sink McDonald’s.  I never believed that.  The people who cheered Super Size Me didn’t eat at McDonald’s anyway.  Meanwhile, I sincerely doubt anyone saw Super Size Me and said to himself, “Oh my gosh!  So that’s why I’m fat – McDonald’s has been selling me too much food!  Well, that’s it, I’m never eating there again.” While researching Fat Head, I talked to two different franchise owners (both owned multiple McDonald’s restaurants) who told me Super Size Me didn’t affect their sales at all.

Morgan Spurlock didn’t hurt McDonald’s, but I’m pretty sure the paleo movement has.  That’s why the CEO talked about food quality, not quantity.  The question is whether or not Mr. Easterbrook and the rest of the McDonald’s brass understand what food quality means to the public these days.

Despite what some people think, I have no relationship (financial or otherwise) with McDonald’s and rarely eat there.  But it so happens that the day before these articles ran, Chareva and I had one those tight-schedule nights, both of us trying to get the girls to and from different activities while taking care of our own errands.  So we ended up meeting at McDonald’s for dinner and a daughter-exchange.

I ordered one of the 1/3 pound sirloin burgers – minus the bun — and it was actually pretty tasty.  Not grass-fed, of course, but I don’t expect to find grass-fed beef in most restaurants.  I don’t even eat grass-fed beef all the time at home.  I don’t believe grain-fed beef is bad for us; just not as good for us as grass-fed beef.  So I was fine with the burger.

But then there are the other items on the menu:  buns made from mutant wheat, skim milk (whole milk isn’t even available), salads with Newman’s Own salad dressing – main ingredient: soybean oil.

The girls split a small order of fries.  I didn’t eat any.  Because of the carbs?  Nope.  My diet is low-carb but not zero-carb, and I’ll happily eat a serving of potatoes now and then.  But McDonald’s fries are fried in vegetable oil.  As Nina Teicholz explained in her outstanding book The Big Fat Surprise, the vegetable oils used in fast-food restaurants these days may be even worse than the trans fats they replaced:

Gerald McNeill, vice president of Loders Croklaan, which is one of the country’s largest suppliers of edible oil, told me something scary.  He explained that fast-food chains including McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s have swapped out hydrogenated oils and started using regular vegetable oil instead.  “As those oils are heated, you’re creating toxic oxidative breakdown products,” he said.  “One of those products is a compound called an aldehyde, which interferes with DNA.  Another is formaldehyde, which is extremely toxic.”

Aldehydes?  Formaldehyde?  Isn’t that the stuff that’s used to preserve dead bodies?

He went on to tell me how these heated, oxidized oils form polymers that create a “thick gunk” on the bottom of the fryer and clog up the drains… Partially hydrogenated oils, by contrast, were long-lasting and stable in fryers, which of course is why they were favored.  And beef tallow, McDonald’s original frying fat, was even more stable.

As I told Chareva over dinner, if McDonald’s ever went back to beef tallow for frying, I’d probably eat there more often.  As it is, if we go out for burgers and fries (and we’re not pressed for time), we go to Five Guys – largely because the French fries are fried in peanut oil.  They taste way better than the fries at McDonald’s, and while peanut oil isn’t the best of fats, it’s acceptable.

I don’t know what Mr. Easterbrook has in mind for improving food quality, but from what I’ve seen lately, McDonald’s is heading in the wrong direction.  They still seem to think food quality means low-fat and low-cholesterol.  Their big idea for breakfast is the Egg White Delight McMuffin.  Egg whites?  Seriously?  Hell, not even the goofs on the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee think egg yolks are a problem anymore.

They didn’t ask me (like I said, we have no relationship), but if they did, here’s what I’d tell the McDonald’s brass:

Yes, you’re losing sales to consumer concern about food quality.  But that concern is driven by the paleo movement and the gluten-free movement, not the anti-fat hysteria of the 1980s and 1990s.  If you want to bring back customers, forget the low-fat nonsense and try a few ideas like these:

  • Announce that you’re returning to beef tallow for frying.  Yes, The Guy From CSPI will throw a fit, but he’s old news and I don’t think people take him seriously anymore.  There have been plenty of articles in both scientific journals and the popular press declaring that the war on saturated fat was a huge mistake.  At the press conference, wave some of those around, along with a copy of The Big Fat Surprise.
  • Ditch the skim milk and start serving whole milk.  There is zero evidence that skim milk is better for our health, and plenty of evidence suggesting that full-fat dairy is better.
  • Dump the Egg White Delight.  Egg yolks are not and never have been a health hazard.  If anything on an Egg McMuffin is a health hazard, it’s the wheat muffin.  Which brings me to …
  • Become the first fast-food restaurant chain to switch to gluten-free buns and muffins.  We’ve tried the gluten-free buns by Udi’s, and they taste just like any other hamburger bun.  Not everyone is going gluten-free, but plenty of people are.  I promise nobody is going to demand buns with gluten in them.  Yes, the gluten-free buns cost more, but what the hell, you’re McDonald’s.  You’d be selling millions of millions of them, so I’m sure you can strike a good deal with a provider.
  • No disrespect to Paul Newman, but get rid of the soybean-oil dressings.  There are plenty of recipes out there for delicious dressings that use healthy fats like avocado oil and full-fat yogurt.  I’m sure someone would mass-produce them if McDonald’s was the client.  If I could get a chicken salad at McDonald’s and a quality dressing to go with it, I’d eat there far more often.

Yes, I know McDonald’s tried “healthy” options before that flopped.  You all probably still have painful memories of the McLean Burger.  But you see, those “healthy” options flopped because they tasted awful.  People don’t go to McDonald’s to buy tasteless, low-fat food.

The changes I’m suggesting don’t punish anyone’s taste buds.  In fact, they’d improve the taste of the food while simultaneously improving the quality.

Give those a shot, and Ronald McDonald may live to a ripe old age.

Share

Comments 118 Comments »

I admit it:  I eat a high-protein diet.  Not just low-carb, and not just high-fat.  It’s high protein.

I thought I should make a public confession because every time some dunce in the media opines that the “high-protein Atkins diet” will kill you, low-carbers around the world jump up and down and yell, “It’s not high protein!  It’s high fat!”

Speak for yourself.

It’s true that when most of us switch to a low-carb diet, we don’t replace 300 grams of carbohydrate with 300 grams of protein.  We swap a lot of the carb calories for fat calories, and that’s good.  But a lot of us also swap a chunk of carb calories for protein calories, and that’s also good.   I used to eat pasta with low-fat marinara sauce for dinner.  Now I eat meats and vegetables.  More fat, more protein.  I almost certainly eat more protein — quite a bit more — than people on the standard Western diet.   I suspect a lot of people on paleo and/or low-carb diets do as well.

People who aim for a constant state of ketosis are, of course, an exception.  Many find they have to restrict protein.  Fine, if that’s working for you, keep it up.  But as I stated in this post and others, I see “nutritional ketosis” as an intervention that’s useful and perhaps even necessary for some, but not the ideal state all health-conscious people must seek.  It’s likely less-than-ideal for a large share of the population.

When ketogenic diets were all the rage, I tried getting into ketosis and staying there, but found it difficult.  Restricting carbs to almost zero and eating plenty of fat wasn’t enough.  I also had to restrict my protein intake to somewhere around 50 grams per day.  Even that barely got me past 1.0 on the keto-meter.

After mulling it over, I concluded that if maintaining chronic ketosis requires that much effort, it can’t possibly be the natural metabolic state of our paleo ancestors – at least not my Irish paleo ancestors.  They wouldn’t have restricted protein, and they certainly weren’t importing avocados year-round to keep their fat intake at 80 percent.

Yes, I’m sure they, like other paleo people, prized fat.  But that doesn’t mean they were able to live on mostly fat.  People prize gold too — because it’s difficult to obtain. There just aren’t that many fatty foods available in the wild, at least not in Northern Europe.  Even if you’re a successful hunter of Paleolithic beasts and eating them nose-to-tail, I doubt you end up at 80 percent fat and only 50 grams of protein per day.  The Inuits — our poster-boys for a VLC diet — consumed 240 grams of protein per day, according to one study.  That doesn’t sound ketogenic to me.

I went back to eating high protein because I listen to my body.  I gave myself several weeks to adjust to ketosis, but never felt quite as strong, energetic or alert as when I eat a higher-protein diet.  Wondering why that was the case, I looked to simple math for an answer.

Our brains, mucous membranes and red blood cells require glucose.  Ketones can substitute for some of the glucose, but not all of it.  The bottom line is that our bodies must have glucose – nowhere near as much as the USDA dingbats tell us, but some.

The answer in low-carb circles has always been Yes, but your body can produce glucose by converting protein.  It’s called gluconeogenesis.  Yup, I’m totally on board with that, and I’m pretty sure I rely on gluconeogensis for at least some of my glucose needs.  But we also need protein to maintain muscle mass.  Different gurus have different opinions on exactly how much, but the typical figure for a guy my size would be a minimum of 60 grams per day.

See the basic math problem here?  If I’m only eating 50 grams of protein per day, that might just cover what I need to maintain muscle mass, or it might just cover my body’s requirement for glucose via gluconeogenesis, but it sure as shootin’ won’t cover both.  So if I can only stay in ketosis by going zero-carb and low-protein, I’m either going to run short of biologically necessary glucose or lose muscle mass.  (If I’m missing something in the equation, somebody can enlighten me.)

When I’ve mentioned that I don’t aim for ketosis and don’t believe it’s the natural human metabolic state (at least not as a constant state), I’ve had well-meaning people assure me that if I’m not in “nutritional ketosis,” it means I’m still primarily a glucose-burner.  Let’s see how that holds up to simple math.

Suppose I consume 150 grams of protein in a day, plus 50 grams of carbohydrate.  That would be a typical daily intake for me, and definitely prevent me from going into ketosis.  My body will likely use 50 or more grams of protein to maintain lean tissue, but what the heck, let’s say all that protein ended up as glucose for energy.  In that case, we’re talking about 800 calories of protein and carbohydrate combined.  At my size and activity level, I probably burn at least 2400 calories per day.  That means the other 1600 calories come from fat … otherwise known as 67% of the total.

So no, I’m not primarily a glucose-burner.  I’m primarily a fat-burner, even at a high protein intake.  I don’t know why that doesn’t translate into higher readings on the keto-meter, nor do I care.  What I do care about is feeling alert, energetic and strong – which I do on a higher protein diet.

Once we let go of the “but I won’t be in ketosis!” fear, the question is whether going high-protein provides metabolic advantages.  For most of us (meaning those who don’t over-produce insulin in response to protein), I believe it does.

This study, for example, found that increasing protein to 30 percent of calories (which is what our friend Jonathan Bailor recommends) produced a spontaneous decrease of 440 calories per day and a reduction in fat mass.  As you know, I don’t believe restricting calories is the key to weight loss all by itself.  Your body has to be satisfied with fewer calories, or the elephant will panic and run away.  (That’s a reference to a post about The Rider and the Elephant, in case you missed it.)  When people eat less despite not being instructed to do so, it means their bodies are satisfied.

This study (as well as others) demonstrated that while losing weight, people on a high-protein diet were more likely to maintain their muscle mass.  If you’re trying to lose weight (and I’m sure many of you out there are), you don’t want it to come from your muscles.  That sets you up for a lower metabolism and a less-appealing body composition.  So restricting protein as part of a weight-loss diet could backfire in the long term.  A high-protein diet, on the other hand, has been show to raise metabolism.

I don’t feel the need to make major changes in my diet.  Going low-carb in 2008 was a major change that provided a slew of  benefits, so most of what I do now is tinker.  Last year I tinkered by re-introducing a bit of safe starch and adding some resistant starch.  This year I’ve been tinkering by reducing my fat intake a bit and increasing protein.  It’s still a high-fat diet, but not as high.

Most days I aim for somewhere around 150 grams of protein.  Since I don’t want to slog down 75 grams for lunch and another 75 for dinner, that means I’ve started eating breakfast again – well, most days.  Some days I just don’t feel like it.  I also still pick two days per week for intermittent fasting, meaning I don’t eat until dinner – usually around 7:00 PM.  I accept that I won’t get as much protein on those days.

On the non-fasting days, I’ve upped the protein partly by adding eggs whites to my meals.  Don’t scream.  I know we all think of eggs whites as those icky things the anti-fat hysterics want us to eat instead of whole eggs, but I still eat whole eggs – usually three per day.  However, I don’t want to choke down six whole eggs in the morning for the sake of consuming a high-protein breakfast.  I like eggs yolks, but not that much.  So I’ll eat three eggs with a cup of eggs whites added to the pan.  I’ve also been adding lean cuts of meat to my lunches and dinners – which already contain plenty of fat, so the point isn’t to create a low-fat meal.  The point is to create a high-protein meal.

After extolling the benefits of a higher-protein diet, I’m probably supposed to tell you how much weight I’ve lost.  Trouble is, I don’t know.  I’ve mentioned before that we don’t have a scale at home so I only weigh myself at the gym.  Turns out even that was useless, or at least it is now.

I realized as much when I stepped on the gym scale a few weeks ago.  It’s one of those “medical” scales you see in doctors’ offices, with the sliding weights and the balance mechanism.  It all feels so very precise, sliding that top weight over … and a little more … and a little more until the balance is dead center.

But I knew the gym’s scale wasn’t precise when it told me I weighed 206 pounds.  That’s not an impossible figure – I weighed more than that 10 years ago – but just a week earlier, the same scale told me I weighed 194 pounds.  All I’ve done since then is follow my usual diet and exercise program, which isn’t likely to induce a gain of 12 pounds in seven days.

So I turned to a nearby staff member and said, “This scale has me weighing 12 pounds more than a week ago.”

“Oh, yeah, don’t pay any attention to that thing.  It’s all messed up.”

Makes me wonder why it’s still in the gym instead of being fixed or sent to the scrap heap, but that’s not my concern.

Anyway, I don’t know how much I weigh.  But I can say I’ve had to cinch my belt a notch tighter since tinkering with a high-protein diet.

Share

Comments 160 Comments »

I had a longer post in mind for tonight, but I’m up to my ears in a programming project that’s due Monday.  It’s 11:30 PM and the only reason I’m writing a post at all is that my program takes 20 to 30 minutes to test each time I run it.

Anyway, I saw something at a grocery store recently that reminded me of what I wrote in a post titled The Wisdom of Crowds Is On The Menu:

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.

Here’s what I saw that reminded me of that post:

Yup, this store wants you to know you’re buying locally sourced produce.  They even have pictures of the nice folks who grow it.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean the nice folks are growing organic produce. (Personally, I think the “organic” label is overrated.)  But if you live here, it’s nice to know your squash wasn’t shipped from California to Tennessee.  According to Google Maps, Elora (the red A on the map) is about 90 miles from Franklin.

Given my druthers, I’d still rather get my squash from Chareva’s garden, but you get the point.  Those big signs featuring pictures of the local farmers cost money.  If the store went to the effort and expense, it means someone in management decided consumers want locally grown produce.  So what was this store?  Whole Foods?

Nope.  These signs were in our local Kroger.  Not exactly a store for the soy-cheese and Birkenstock crowd.

But crowd is still the operative word here.  The Wisdom of Crowds effect is continuing to change what consumers demand, and in turn what producers sell.

Now back to that pesky code.  It’s going to be a long night yet …

Share

Comments 91 Comments »

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.

Share

Comments 76 Comments »

Chareva’s gardens are pretty much done for the year, but she harvested these recently:


This bounty came from a small patch of ground, maybe 16 x 8.  Imagine if we’d grown an acre of the things.  These squashes, along with a book I just finished, got me thinking (again) about what the true paleo diet was and wasn’t.

At one time, I believed Paleo Man was first and foremost a hunter who spent most of the year living on a diet of meat, meat and more meat. Then autumn rolled around, and Paleo Man would eat a few squashes, tubers and fruits during the brief harvest season.  Then it was back to the meat or the fish, because plant foods weren’t available.

Let’s just say that belief has been squashed.  With proper care, these squashes will be edible well into the winter.  That was also the case with the sweet potatoes we grew and harvested last year.  So if Paleo Man knew a little about proper food curing and storage – and I believe he did – he could have been eating squashes and tubers for a good chunk of the year.

I commute to Nashville three days per week, which means three to four hours per week in my car, depending on traffic.  I spend the drive time listening to books.  Blood and Thunder, the book I just finished, is about the conquering (or theft, if you prefer) of the American Southwest. The culture of the Indian tribes who lived there is described at length.  Food sources:  sheep, goats, occasional buffalo, deer, elk and other wild game – there’s that meat-meat-meat part of the paleo diet – but also maize, beans, pumpkins and ground tubers.

Granted, these Indians didn’t settle down and build towns around their crops.  In fact, in one stirring speech recounted in the book, an Apache warrior explained to an American soldier why the Apaches didn’t want to become farmers and send their kids to the reservation school:  you white people spend your lives as slaves, working for the sake of your big houses and your crops, he said.  Your schools teach your children how to be good slaves.  We don’t want to live like slaves, and we don’t want your schools to teach our children how to be slaves.  We want to be free.

But while they preferred a nomadic lifestyle, many Indians of the Southwest – the Navajos in particular – were quite adept at growing plant foods.  They planted, moved around at will during the warm months (herding their goats and sheep along with them), then came back in time for the harvest.   In fact, as the book explains, they depended on their maize, beans and pumpkins to get them through the winter.

Unfortunately for them, the U.S. Army figured that out.  An army general assigned Kit Carson the task of finding and destroying the fields where Navajos and other Indians grew their crops.  Carson apparently had little taste for the job – his first wife was an Arapaho, and he didn’t agree with the policy of herding Indians onto reservations – but he followed orders.  With their plant foods destroyed, the Navajos surrendered to avoid starving to death.

If these Indians were typical of paleo people, then tubers and squashes were part of the paleo diet.  Their diet would certainly be low-carb compared to the sugar-laden, wheat-laden diet of the modern western world, but it wasn’t zero-carb or ketogenic by any means.

You could argue that the Indians of the Southwest in the 1800s weren’t typical paleo people because their lifestyle had been transformed by the introduction of horses.  That mobility allowed them to be nomadic much of the year and still return to their maize and pumpkins at harvest time.   So perhaps the Indians east of the Mississippi – who didn’t ride horses – are a better example.

Well, those Indians ate squashes and tubers as well.  One of the plants we’re considering growing next year here on the farm is Apios Americana, otherwise known as the American groundnut.  Here’s some of what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The tubers were a staple food among most Native American groups within the natural range of the plant … In 1749, the travelling Swedish botanist Peter Kalm writes, “Hopniss or Hapniss was the Indian name of a wild plant, which they ate at that time… The roots resemble potatoes, and were boiled by the Indians who ate them instead of bread.”… The early author Rafinesque observed that the Creeks were cultivating the plant for both its tubers and seeds…  In 1910, Parker writes that the Iroquois were consuming significant quantities of groundnuts up until about 30 years before his writing … The author Gilmore records the use of groundnuts by the Caddoan and Siouan tribes of the Missouri river region, and the authors Prescott and Palmer record its use among the Sioux. The Native Americans would prepare the tubers in many different ways. Many tribes peeled them and dried them in the sun, such as the Menomini who built scaffolds of cedar bark covered with mats to dry their tubers for winter use.

Another plant we’re considering growing is Cyperus esculentus, otherwise known as the tiger nut.  Richard Nikoley has written about tiger nuts several times on his blog.  Apparently they were a major food source for early humans, including paleo Indians in North America.  Here’s another quote from Wikipedia:

It has been suggested that the extinct hominin Paranthropus boisei, the “Nutcracker Man,” subsisted on tiger nuts.  Prehistoric tools with traces of C. esculentus tuber starch granules have been recovered from the early Archaic period in North America, from about 9,000 years ago, at the Sandy Hill excavation site at the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Connecticut. The tubers are believed to have been a source of food for those Paleo-Indians.

I ordered one bag of tiger nuts from Amazon and liked them enough to order several more bags.  They’ve replaced almonds as my watching-football snack.  I enjoy the taste very much –like coconut with a hint of raisin — but it takes awhile to chew them because they’re very high in fiber and resistant starch.  (If you have a constipation problem, I can almost guarantee tiger nuts will fix it.)  I like the idea of growing tiger nuts because they’re apparently quite prolific – some strains are so prolific they’re considered an invasive species.  That tells me they’re not difficult to grow.

It’s clear from the historical evidence that our paleo ancestors ate squashes and tubers.  That being said, I’m not quite as enthusiastic as Richard Nikoley when it comes to white potatoes.  Yes, if you cook and cool them, you get some resistant starch.  That helps to reduce the glucose spike.

But like many other foods we buy today, modern potatoes were bred to be more palatable than their ancient counterparts – which means less fiber and more starch in the case of tubers, or less fiber and more fructose in the case of fruit.  I still believe diabetics and people with genetically low levels of amylase need to be careful not to over-eat those foods.

Tiger nuts are tubers, but they’re not exactly the metabolic equivalent of a baked Russet potato.  White potatoes are low in fiber and fat.  Tiger nuts are high in fiber and fat, both of which help to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream.  Putting numbers to the comparison, if I eat a small baked potato that provides 120 calories, I get 30 carbs of which 3.5 grams are fiber (26.5 net carbs), and 4 calories from fat.  If I eat an ounce of raw tiger nuts that provides 120 calories, I get 19 carbs of which 10 grams are fiber (nine net carbs) and 63 calories from fat.

Think about that fiber content for a second.  I don’t know how big Nutcracker Man was or what his daily calorie needs were, but if I ate 2,400 calories of tiger nuts to get through the day, I’d end up consuming 200 grams of fiber.  I hope Nutcracker Man subscribed to a good magazine.

So yes, Nutcracker Man subsisted on a tuber, but his diet was way high in fiber and more than 50% fat by calories.  Richard listed tiger nuts as 42% carbohydrate, but if I go with the net carbs (the fiber would be converted to short-chain fatty acids in the colon), I get 30%.

So what was the true paleo diet?  It would, of course, vary by region.  But based on what we know about paleo people discovered in modern times (like the Indians in North America) and the foods other paleo people ate, I think Paul Jaminet got it right in the Perfect Health Diet book:  more than 50% fat by calories, with the carb calories in a range of 15% to 30%, mostly from tubers and squashes.  Not meat-meat-meat, not VLC and not ketogenic, but still roughly twice the fat and half the carbohydrate recommended by our national diet dictocrats.

I’ll take meat-meat-meat over the USDA diet any ol’ time  But I don’t have to choose from those two options, so I’ll take meat-meat-meat with a side of squash and some greens.

Share

Comments 66 Comments »

Hi Fatheads.

One of the comments on my last post (from Pamela) had a YouTube link of a young student demonstrating the difference when trying to sprout sweet potatoes (the “regular” ones wouldn’t sprout, the store bought “Organic” ones generated some weak growth, while the locally sourced tubers did quite well), along with the note that “Of course, growing your own is best, but some of us don’t have that luxury.”

I pretty much agree with both parts of her statement. I give pretty wide interpretation to the “don’t have that luxury” part. I think there’s a tendency to think of that meaning not having a large enough plot or enough time to tend to a full garden. But I think not having the luxury can also mean that if you want a tomato or strawberries in November, you’re not going to find that in your garden or the local Farmers’ Market. I assume if you’re here, we tend to agree that eating seasonally is best, but sometimes you just want those strawberries.

I also think that having access to a decent Farmers’ Market is the same as having that luxury. If a local producer is raising the food without chemicals, GMO seed, or other weirdness, there’s no magic missing compared to a strawberry grown in my own back yard. Odds are, it’s going to be better and more diverse, because they’re doing it as a vocation.

Without going into a full out rant, I’m also not enamored of the “Organic” label. It encompasses a lot of bureaucracy, paperwork, and expense that don’t have any positive relationship to the quality of the certified products. I know there are a lot of wonderful people who’ve jumped through those hoops, but there are also a lot who produce great food who can’t or won’t. There’s a grassroots alternative called “Certified Naturally Grown” that’s independent of the sundry government agencies that tend to help Big Food take over these certifications. Enough about that.

Okay, back to that first proposition — growing your own. I’ve kept a few “Square Foot Garden” style beds in the back yard the last couple of years. In the Midwest this year, between the cool temperatures and plenty of rain, if you couldn’t grow a garden, it’s just not in the cards for you!

I thought I’d share a couple of pictures. I’ve never grown potatoes before, because you normally “hill” them. Some people grow them in containers, but I’ve heard mixed reviews. However, out at Linda’s, where we build the compost pile with thrown-out produce, we had a number of light wooden crates that had been filled with green beans. I snatched a few of those, put about a dozen seed potato pieces in the bottom of each one, then covered them with some of that compost. As the plants took off, I kept adding compost until the boxes were full. This is what they looked like after the plants died back…

 

Harvesting was simply a matter of dragging the box over to a spot in the yard I wanted to dump some compost, then turning the box over and “rooting” out the potatoes.

 

Those are from one of the boxes. Not a huge haul, but I was pretty encouraged since it was my first try.  Then they go in the basement to cure for a couple of weeks. The dirt stays on until they’re ready to cook. So, I assume do all of the probiotics!

I also had a great turnout with some Brussels Sprouts.

If you don’t think you like Brussels Sprouts, you’ve probably never had them roasted in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Once some of the leaves start to turn a little black, that means the sugars are caramelizing.

My spaghetti squash turned out really good, too.  Yeah, that’s old nylons they’re hanging in.  No, not mine. Growing them vertically gives you a bigger harvest than letting them sprawl across the ground, and helps reduce access for the bugs. There’s still some peppers hiding out behind the squash.

Like I said, it was easy to grow veggies this year — even if you didn’t mean to. These cherry tomatoes “volunteered” and are growing right up in the middle of where my strawberries were earlier in the season.

 

It feels nice to see real food you’ve grown as Fall starts to ramp up. Having some success this year will inspire me this winter while I’m buying too many different kinds of veggies from the Seed Savers catalog.  That’s okay, we’ve got a really good Farmers’ Market, so people that know what they’re doing  can always bail me out, while I can still enjoy occasionally eating straight out of the garden.

Cheers,

The Older Brother

Share

Comments 22 Comments »