Archive for the “Real Food” Category
Duck Dodgers (who posts comments here now and then) wrote a long post on the Free the Animal blog titled How Wheat Went From Superfood To Liability.
Don’t worry; he’s not encouraging you to toddle down to the Olive Garden for a bowl of pasta and stop for some (ahem) “whole-wheat” bread on the way home. His point, as briefly as I can state it, is that ancient wheat was a nourishing food — which we turned into garbage through modern milling and refining.
I enjoy Duck’s Free the Animal guest posts because he fires arrows at the sacred cows of paleo and low-carb.
What?! You enjoy that?!
Yes, I do. We don’t learn in an echo chamber. We learn by being challenged, and by being willing to change our minds. At one time, I believed all the horsehocky about saturated fat clogging our arteries, red meat causing cancer, etc. I changed my mind because people challenged my beliefs. Thank goodness they did.
I encourage you to read the entire post. Go ahead, I’ll wait …
Okay, with that out of the way (and in case you didn’t read the post), I’ll pluck some quotes and add my own comments. As you’ll see, I think Duck makes some excellent points, but I’m still not persuaded ancient wheat was a superfood.
So, how did cultures regard wheat and whole grains before the industrial revolution? According to the historical literature, wheat was not some kind of sub-par caloric filler or cheap energy. Every culture had its superfood and wheat was, hands down, the superfood of Western civilization. Whole wheat is not just calories and nutrients. It contains of all sorts of phenolics, carotenoids, sterols, β-glucan, resistant starch, inulin, oligosaccharides, lignans, and other phytonutrients. Much of the health benefits of wheat are believed to come from these phytonutrients.
Economist Thomas Sowell once said that when his students declared this or that to be good or bad, his next question was: compared to what?
Duck makes a convincing case that ancient wheat was far better than the refined garbage people eat today. But was a wheat-based diet healthy compared to a hunter-gatherer diet?
Anthropologist Jared Diamond famously called the switch to agriculture the worst mistake in the history of the human race, based largely on observations of human remains. Some quotes from his article in Discover:
In some lucky situations, the paleopathologist has almost as much material to study as a pathologist today. For example, archaeologists in the Chilean deserts found well preserved mummies whose medical conditions at time of death could be determined by autopsy. And feces of long-dead Indians who lived in dry caves in Nevada remain sufficiently well preserved to be examined for hookworm and other parasites.
Usually the only human remains available for study are skeletons, but they permit a surprising number of deductions. To begin with, a skeleton reveals its owner’s sex, weight, and approximate age. In the few cases where there are many skeletons, one can construct mortality tables like the ones life insurance companies use to calculate expected life span and risk of death at any given age. Paleopathologists can also calculate growth rates by measuring bones of people of different ages, examine teeth for enamel defects (signs of childhood malnutrition), and recognize scars left on bones by anemia, tuberculosis, leprosy, and other diseases.
One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5′ 9” for men, 5′ 5” for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5′ 3” for men, 5′ for women.
At Dickson Mounds, located near the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers, archaeologists have excavated some 800 skeletons that paint a picture of the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way to intensive maize farming around A. D. 1150. Studies by George Armelagos and his colleagues then at the University of Massachusetts show these early farmers paid a price for their new-found livelihood. Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 per cent increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a threefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor.
A six-inch crash in height, with a rise in dental defects and infectious diseases (bearing in mind that the Dickson Mounds natives were growing maize, not wheat). Other anthropologists have made similar observations. When we took up farming, our health declined.
To be clear, Diamond doesn’t argue that grains induced those problems directly. He writes that perhaps when humans became farmers, the crops squeezed out a more varied and nutrient-dense hunter-gatherer diet, leading to malnutrition. But it’s clear that switching from a hunter-gatherer diet to a grain-based agricultural diet didn’t make us taller or healthier. Quite the opposite.
Back to Duck’s post:
Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, not only recommended bread as a health-promoting staple, but he was keenly interested in experimenting with different preparations of wheat.
If wheat was so deleterious, you’d think that Hippocrates would have noticed it and warned against its consumption instead of recommending it for the prevention of disease.
Hippocrates was not alone. Avicenna recommended bread as a key staple of the diet. Paracelsus believed that wheat had mystical properties, and Aristotle thought foods made from wheat suits our bodies best. And, what we see over and over again in the historical literature is that wheat was once considered to be the most nutritious and most important edible plant in the entire vegetable kingdom. Bread was known as the Staff of life—it was the de facto superfood for agriculturalists.
Setting aside the appeal to authority, I’d ask the Sowell question again: compared to what? If Hippocrates was getting good results with his patients by having them substitute wheat for pork and green vegetables, then I’d say he was onto something. But we don’t seem to have that information. Maybe the wheat replaced swill.
Much of Duck’s post quotes doctors from previous centuries who recommended wheat as a health food. Okay, fair enough. That’s interesting at the very least. But given how often established medical opinion has turned out to be wrong over the centuries, I wouldn’t consider it solid evidence that ancient wheat was a superfood and didn’t cause health problems.
In both of his Wheat Belly books, Dr. William Davis blames the gliadin portion of gluten for causing many, if not most, of what he considers to be wheat’s deleterious effects. The ability of gliadin to increase gut permeability has been well established in recent years and is not, as far as I know, controversial. (If you Google “gliadin intestinal permeability,” you can read from now until you retire.)
Duck’s main point in his post is that milling and refining wheat turned it into health-sapping garbage. I agree wholeheartedly. But unless ancient wheat didn’t contain gliadin or we were somehow protected against the effects on gut permeability, I suspect wheat has always had the ability to induce auto-immune reactions. Perhaps those reactions weren’t linked to wheat because everyone ate the stuff.
I’m reminded of something I read in The Emperor of All Maladies, a hefty book about the history of cancer: when a doctor first floated the idea that smoking causes lung cancer, the vast majority of other doctors and researchers scoffed. They continued scoffing for years. As the author (an oncologist) explains, it’s been historically difficult for doctors to accept that something causes a disease if 1) nearly everyone is exposed to it, and 2) most of them never develop the disease.
At one time, nearly everyone smoked. Doctors smoked. The banker smoked. Your neighbor smoked. Your in-laws smoked. It was considered normal behavior. Heck, everyone does it, and few of them develop cancer, so it can’t be the smoking. Move along, let’s find the real cause.
When reading that passage, I thought, Hmm, just like with wheat. Everyone eats wheat, so it can’t be bad for us.
At a dinner some years ago, a friend I hadn’t seen in ages asked why I was skipping the bread and pasta. When I told him, he was incredulous. What?! How can wheat possibly be bad for us? Almost everyone eats wheat! People have been eating wheat since biblical times!
Well, yes. But from what I remember of the Bible, healing the sick was one of the real crowd-pleasing portions of the Jesus show.
True, we’ve been eating wheat for as long as we’ve been civilized. We’ve also had diabetes, cancer, heart disease, psoriasis, asthma, arthritis and schizophrenia for as long as we’ve been civilized. Wheat may have caused or contributed to all of them – even if, as with smoking and lung cancer, no single one of those diseases afflicted most people.
Back to Duck:
In his book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, Dr. William Davis claimed that modern hybrids of wheat are to blame for all modern health issues. However, this is not supported by the scientific literature—nor is it supported by France’s lower levels of chronic diseases despite considerably higher wheat intakes.
Ahh, those wacky French. Truth is, I’m not sure what to make of them. They’re twice as likely to smoke as Americans, but have lower rates of heart disease … yet I wouldn’t cite them as proof that smoking doesn’t cause heart disease. I suspect that the American diet of HFCS, refined flour and industrial seed oils creates a perfect storm for inducing disease, which the French avoid by shunning the HFCS and seed oils and embracing natural animal fats. They might still be better off without the wheat.
Or perhaps someday we’ll learn that the French are healthier than us because spending an hour with your mistress before heading home for dinner with the wife and kids prevents nearly all chronic diseases. Chareva disagrees with that hypothesis and offered evidence that anyone who tests it will end up sleeping in a chicken coop.
Duck’s hypothesis is more interesting, despite not involving mistresses:
By 1953, Newfoundland had enacted mandatory fortification of white flour. By 1954, Canada and a number of US states had enacted the Newfoundland Law. Southern states in particular were eager to enact the law, to reduce pellagra, that had become prevalent during the Great Depression. These states typically mandated fortification of flour, bread, pasta, rice and corn grits.
In 1983, the FDA significantly increased the mandated fortification levels—coinciding with the beginning of the obesity epidemic. 1994 was the first year that obesity and diabetes statistics were available for all 50 states. Notice a pattern?
Fortifying flour may have ended the deficiencies of the Great Depression, but it appears to have significantly worsened chronic diseases.
Furthermore, wheat flour fortification may explain the popularity of non-celiac gluten sensitivity we see today in fortified countries (it was extremely rare prior to fortification). As it turns out, iron fortificants have been shown to promote significant gastric distress, even at low doses and pathogenic gut profiles in developing countries. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is virtually unheard of in unfortified countries, like France, which consume 40% more wheat than Americans.
That’s the most eye-opening section of the post as far as I’m concerned. Before reading the brief history that Duck cites here, it never occurred me to that fortifying grain could make it worse. If gliadin didn’t cause gut permeability back in the day (still a big IF in my book), that could be the explanation.
As far as modern wheat goes, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Norman Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his part in developing semi-dwarf wheat, was a good man. He set out to prevent mass starvation, and he succeeded. Given a choice between semi-dwarf wheat or watching my kids die of starvation, I’ll take the wheat every damned time.
That being said, I still believe semi-dwarf wheat is something those of us who aren’t starving should avoid. Duck makes a good case that milling, refining and fortifying wheat turned it into a health hazard. But the changes in semi-dwarf likely threw gasoline on that fire. Here’s a quote from Wheat Belly Total Health:
One important change that has emerged over the past 50 years, for example, is increased expression of a gene called Glia-α9, which yields a gliadin protein that is the most potent trigger for celiac disease. While the Glia-α9 gene was absent from most strains of wheat from the early 20th century, it is now present in nearly all modern varieties.
Now let’s mill it, refine it, and fortify it. Awesome.
Dr. Davis believes the change in the gliadin gene is the reason celiac disease has increased by 400% in the past 50 years — and that’s a genuine increase, by the way, not a case of better diagnosis. Researchers realized as much when they compared blood samples from 50 years ago to recent blood samples. The modern samples were four times as likely to contain antibodies triggered by celiac disease.
Duck, on the other hand, believes fortification is the likely culprit. It’s an interesting possibility.
Back to Duck:
Nor does Dr. David Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers, explain how humanity enjoyed its highest levels of intellectual achievement while largely eating wheat and other grains as staple foods—enjoying unprecedented population growth and longevity as well.
I can explain that one. In a previous post, I mentioned Conquests and Cultures, by Thomas Sowell. One of the book’s main points is that economic specialization is required for cultures to advance. If pretty much everyone has to hunt and gather food, there will be no pianos, printing presses, telescopes or steam engines. There’s no doubt that agriculture led to economic specialization, and thus civilization and intellectual achievement.
But that doesn’t prove eating grains had a positive or even a neutral effect on our brains. It simply means that in a civilization where farming allows most people to do something else, Mozart becomes a composer and Voltaire becomes a writer. In a paleo society, Mozart is the hunter who sings those amazing songs around the campfire, and Voltaire is the hunter whose clever stories amuse his pals during the long walks home from a hunt. They may have had genius IQs, but we’ll never know. We do know that human brains have, in fact, been shrinking since their peak size roughly 20,000 years ago.
Another point Sowell makes in Conquests and Cultures is that civilizations advance through cross-pollination of ideas, technologies and resources. Throughout history, cross-pollination was often the result of large-scale conquest. (Sowell doesn’t ignore or excuse the brutality of conquest, by the way.) Conquering an inhabited territory requires a large army (another example of economic specialization), which requires a large population, which requires agriculture.
In Europe and the Middle East, the “crop of conquest” was wheat. In the Western Hemisphere, it was maize that enabled the Aztecs and Mayans to build cities and raise armies large enough to establish empires. But again, that doesn’t prove the conquerors were healthier or smarter than the tribes they subjugated. It only proves that farming enabled them to raise and feed large armies.
Okay, time to wrap up. This is already a long post about a long post. To summarize:
Duck believes ancient wheat was a nutritious food, not a health hazard. Maybe, but I remain skeptical. Maybe ancient wheat was good, maybe it was neutral, maybe it was bad but not nearly as bad as the stuff sold today. I still think it’s likely wheat has been provoking auto-immune reactions in susceptible people since the dawn of civilization.
But whether wheat was good or bad back in ancient times, the refined and fortified garbage sold today is a health hazard. On that we totally agree. So unless you want to go out and find some ancient wheat (which Duck explains how to do in his post) and give it a try, my advice remains the same:
Don’t Eat Wheat.
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A couple of podcasters who interviewed me recently asked if I believe we’re at a tipping point. I do. I’m seeing a major shift in what the public at large considers a healthy diet, thanks largely to the Wisdom of Crowds effect. It seems that more and more people are rejecting the decades-old anti-fat message and embracing real food – fat and all.
I’ve sometimes wondered if I’m just experiencing the Red Toyota Effect, which works like this: While shopping for a car, you make up your mind that you want a red Toyota … and soon after, you start noticing them all over the place, which leads you to think, “Holy moly! Everyone’s buying red Toyotas all of a sudden!” In fact, the red Toyotas were always there. You’re just noticing them now because owning a red Toyota is on your mind.
Sure, I’ve got diet on my mind. I write about diet, I think often about diet, I hang out in social media sites where the subject is diet. But I don’t believe I’m experiencing the Red Toyota Effect. I think there’s a real shift happening out there.
For starters, I keep seeing more mainstream media articles declaring that – surprise! — saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease after all. Here are some quotes from an article in the U.K. Telegraph with the headline No link found between saturated fat and heart disease:
For the health conscious reader who has been stoically swapping butter for margarine for years the next sentence could leave a bad taste in the mouth.
Scientists have discovered that saturated fat does not cause heart disease while so-called ‘healthy’ polyunsaturated fats do not prevent cardiovascular problems.
In contrast with decades old nutritional advice, researchers at Cambridge University have found that giving up fatty meat, cream or butter is unlikely to improve health.
They are calling for guidelines to be changed to reflect a growing body of evidence suggesting there is no overall association between saturated fat consumption and heart disease.
Earlier this month Dr James DiNicolantonio of Ithica College, New York, called for a new public health campaign to admit ‘we got it wrong.’ He claims carbohydrates and sugar are more responsible.
Admit we got it wrong …. Yeah, that would be awesome. Despite my optimism about a big shift within the public at large, I don’t expect a We Got It All Wrong announcement from the USDA anytime soon. They are, however, slooooowly backing away from some of the advice they’ve been handing down for the past 35 years. Here are some quotes from a Forbes article titled Fat Is Back: Time To Stop Limiting Dietary Fats, Experts Say:
The latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the government-sanctioned recommendations about what we should and shouldn’t eat – will include a game-changing edit: There’s no longer going to be a recommended upper limit on total fat intake. This hasn’t gotten as much press as the other big change – that cholesterol will no longer be considered a “nutrient of concern,” meaning that we can now eat eggs without feeling guilty.
But as the authors of a new paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association point out, the true game-changer in the new recommendations is that we won’t have to worry so much about the total fat content of our food. And this makes a lot of sense, since in many ways, fats are much better for us than what they’ve typically been replaced with in low-fat diets – refined carbs and added sugars.
For people who lived through the low-fat/no-fat craze that started in the 80s, this is big news. The change in fats recommendations has been coming for some time now, as studies have consistently shown that low-fat diets are in no way the beacon they once seemed to be, and can in fact be quite unhealthy over the long-term.
The USDA (ahem) “experts” are willing to admit that cholesterol is no longer a “nutrient of concern,” but can’t quite bring themselves to say saturated fat is okay. However – and this is huge, since so many people get their dietary advice from registered dieticians – the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has already jumped ahead of the USDA. The organization’s official commentary on the latest USDA guidelines first praises the USDA for its efforts, then disputes much of what the USDA has to say.
Dr. Stan De Loach (who has been recommending a high-fat, real-food diet to patients in Mexico for years) summarized the points made by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
1. Cholesterol contained in food items is NO LONGER a nutrient of interest or concern. That is, limiting cholesterol (egg yolks, for example) in the food plan makes no sense because there is no trustworthy scientific evidence that it may produce negative or harmful effects on the human body or cardiovascular system.
2. NO scientific consensus or concrete scientific evidence exists that could justify the recommendation that the quantity of dietary salt (sodium) be limited. This long-standing recommendation to not consume salt freely has been overturned. Moreover, the Report mentions that probably and certainly “there are persons who are NOT consuming a SUFFICIENT amount of sodium.”
3. “Not a single study included in this revision of the dietary recommendations meant to prevent cardiovascular disease was able to identify saturated fat as an element in the diet that has an unfavorable or adverse association to cardiovascular disease.” The experts recommend de-emphasizing saturated fat as a nutrient of interest or concern.
4. The lipid/lipoproteins LDL and HDL are NOT appropriate nor adequate for use as markers of the impact of diet on the risks of cardiovascular disease, for example, in the scientific studies that attempt to measure diet’s impact on the risks for cardiovascular disease.
5. “The consumption of carbohydrates carries a GREATER risk for cardiovascular disease than that of saturated fats.”
6. “It is likely that the impact of carbohydrate consumption on the risks for cardiovascular diseases is positive (that is, their consumption INCREASES the risks).”
7. “Therefore, it seems to us that the scientific evidence summarized and synthesized by the Committee suggests that the most effective simplified recommendation to reduce the incidence of cardiac disease would be a simple reduction in the consumption of carbohydrates, replacing them with polyunsaturated fats.” Polyunsaturated fats tend to reduce the levels of cholesterol in the blood. Avocados, fish (tuna, trout, herring, salmon), some varieties of nuts (peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame), some mayonnaises, some salad dressings, olive oil, etc., contain polyunsaturated fats.
8. “The strongest scientific evidence indicates that a reduction in the consumption of added sugars (carbohydrates) will improve the health of the American public.”
Okay, ya can’t win ‘em all, at least not right away. The dieticians want carbs replaced with polyunsaturated fats. But this is still huge. Look at the basic message: Stop worrying about cholesterol, saturated fat and salt. Start focusing on reducing sugars and refined carbohydrates. If this keeps up, people will soon believe you can eat food that tastes good and still be healthy. Dr. Ornish must be terrified.
It isn’t just that people are no longer accusing saturated fat of a crime it didn’t commit, either. There’s also been a huge rise in the demand for quality food, food that hasn’t been processed into nutritional oblivion. Food manufacturers are wondering what the bleep happened and trying to adjust, as this article in Fortune magazine online explains:
Try this simple test. Say the following out loud: Artificial colors and flavors. Pesticides. Preservatives. High-fructose corn syrup. Growth hormones. Antibiotics. Gluten. Genetically modified organisms.
If any one of these terms raised a hair on the back of your neck, left a sour taste in your mouth, or made your lips purse with disdain, you are part of Big Food’s multibillion-dollar problem. In fact, you may even belong to a growing consumer class that has some of the world’s biggest and best-known companies scrambling to change their businesses.
“Their existence is being challenged,” says Edward Jones analyst Jack Russo of the major packaged-food companies. In some ways it’s a strange turn of events. The idea of “processing”—from ancient techniques of salting and curing to the modern arsenal of artificial preservatives—arose to make sure the food we ate didn’t make us sick. Today many fear that it’s the processed food itself that’s making us unhealthy.
It’s pretty simple what people want now: simplicity. Which translates, most of the time, to less: less of the ingredients they can’t actually picture in their head.
Steve Hughes, a former ConAgra executive who co-founded and now runs natural food company Boulder Brands, believes so much change is afoot that we won’t recognize the typical grocery store in five years. “I’ve been doing this for 37 years,” he says, “and this is the most dynamic, disruptive, and transformational time that I’ve seen in my career.”
So it’s definitely not the Red Toyota Effect. This change is real, and it’s coming to a Kroger near you. In fact, I recently found – for the first time ever – dry-roasted almonds in a Kroger where the only ingredients were almonds and salt. A sign above that section of the store bragged about the lack of additives in the several varieties of nuts, which you can buy in bulk.
As the Fortune magazine article explains:
Shoppers are still shopping, but they’re often turning to brands they believe can give them less of the ingredients they don’t want—and for the first time, they can find them in their local Safeway, Wegmans, or Wal-Mart. Kroger’s Simple Truth line of natural food grew to an astonishing $1.2 billion in annual sales in just two years.
The search for authenticity has led organic food sales to more than triple over the past decade and increase 11% last year alone to $35.9 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. Data provider Spins found that sales of natural products across nearly every category are growing in mainstream retailers, while more than half of their conventional counterparts are in decline.
Perhaps more frightening for Big Food, shoppers are doing something else as well: They’re skipping the middle aisles altogether.
The war on fat is ending, with fat emerging as the victor. Cholesterol is no longer a “nutrient of concern.” The low-salt nonsense is being abandoned by doctors, nutritionists and even the CDC. Consumers are avoiding foods with ingredients they can’t pronounce, and Big Food is both scared and scrambling to adjust.
Yes, we’re at a tipping point. Let’s hope the nation tips right over into better health.
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During the low-carb cruise, I interviewed Dr. Ann Childers about how diet affects mood and mental health. She’s a psychiatrist who works with children and has seen a real-food diet work wonders, so I wanted to get her on camera for the upcoming book and DVD companion. One clip I can pretty much guarantee will end up in the DVD is her describing when a teacher called to ask what new wonder drug she’d prescribed to a student previously diagnosed with behavior problems.
“Bacon and eggs,” Dr. Childers answered.
“Yes, but WHAT ELSE?” demanded the teacher.
Dr. Childers also mentioned something Dr. Weston A. Price observed during his travels around the world: people eating their traditional diets weren’t just physically healthier; they were mentally healthier too. Dr. Price noted many times how cheerful and optimistic these people were, and how quickly they rebounded from life’s setbacks.
I thought about that during our return trip home from the cruise, because it was the kind of day that could easily have produced a case of acute crankipantus extremitus in kids, but didn’t in ours.
We booked the cruise closer to the deadline than we should have. When we searched for return flights on Orbitz, our options were 1) a long day of travel or 2) an extra $200 per person for a short day of travel. We elected to save the $800 and endure the long day.
How long? Well, let’s see … we left the ship around 9:00 AM and were sitting inside the Ft. Lauderdale airport shortly after 10:00 AM. Our flight didn’t leave until 3:45 PM — and that flight was to Detroit to change planes. Three hours on that flight, then a three-hour-plus layover in the Detroit airport, then an hour-and-a-half flight to Nashville. Then wait for the luggage. Then catch a shuttle to long-term parking. Then make a half-hour drive to Franklin. By the time we walked into our house, we’d been traveling for 16 hours.
And here’s what surprised me, although perhaps it shouldn’t have: the girls never got into a funk or whined about anything. They made a wisecrack or two, asking me if I couldn’t have found a longer and more roundabout way to get home, but they were laughing about it, not whining. (I told them I’d signed us up for the scenic route.)
They read, they played games on their Kindles, they commented on the view outside the airplane’s windows, they watched some of the in-flight TV offerings, they talked to us and to each other. They laughed many times throughout the long day. When the shuttle bus let us out in the long-term parking lot at the Nashville airport, Sara broke into a little musical ditty she’d written to memorize our row number. They were still cheerful when we finally pulled into our driveway.
They’re the daughters of two people who don’t much like whiners, so sure, heredity and upbringing both figure into how they handled themselves. But I believe diet figured into it as well. The long trip home was after a week of eating quality (mostly) food. During the cruise, they had bacon, sausage, fruit and eggs for breakfast – no pancakes, cereal, waffles or glasses of juice. Lots of meats, seafood and vegetables for lunches and dinners. They even ordered escargots in garlic butter several times for an appetizer.
Other than the couple of times we let them have sugar-free cookies as an indulgence, they were eating make-your-brain-happy foods all week. During our three-hour layover in the Detroit airport, we had dinner at a Texas Longhorn steakhouse. Then we sat for another two hours, waiting to board the plane to Nashville – again, with nobody complaining or getting cranky.
Now for the flipside …
Sunday was, as I’m sure you’re aware, Father’s Day. On Saturday, I went out in the 90-plus heat and high humidity and spent four hours mowing the back pastures. I was so soaked with perspiration, during one of my cooling-off breaks, Alana asked if I’d dumped a bucket of water over my head.
Hard work? Yup, especially in that heat. But after a shower and a change of clothes, I was re-energized and ready to go walk a few miles around the nearby Westhaven neighborhood, which sponsors an annual music festival called Porch Fest. (The bands play on porches. Nearly every house in Westhaven has a big front porch.)
Afterwards, we walked back to the Mexican restaurant in Westhaven for our Saturday dinner. That’s my “carb nite” meal most weeks. I eat the rice and beans that come with my fajitas, plus a few corn chips. It’s high-carb, but no wheat. I wake up Sunday mornings feeling no ill effects.
Yesterday morning was no exception. When Chareva asked what I wanted to do for Father’s Day, I replied that I wanted us to clean out the garage, sweep, and put away all the tools we’d let pile up during our big Spring Project. (Isn’t that every dad’s dream on Father’s Day?) So we did. It was 90-something and humid again, but my energy level was good.
After I showered and the girls gave me their home-made Father’s Day cards, I decided it was enough of a special occasion to head out for an indulgence meal. I put it up for a vote, and the consensus was that we’d go to Mellow Mushroom in downtown Franklin for pizzas. I haven’t had pizza since my birthday in November and probably won’t again until my next birthday, so I thought it was a fine idea.
As I often say, if you’re going to eat something you know is bad for you, at least choose a meal that’s worth it. The pizzas at Mellow Mushroom are excellent, and therefore worth it — assuming we’re talking about a very occasional indulgence, that is.
I was reminded today why I only eat wheat a couple of times per year. I slept nearly nine hours last night, but I’ve been low-energy all day. I don’t feel depressed – that would be stretching it – but I can safely call it a case of the blahs. I drank three big mugs of coffee over the course of the morning but never felt totally awake.
Often after dinner, I run out to play a quick 18 holes of disc golf as the sun dips behind the tall trees across the highway from our property. Today the idea didn’t appeal to me. Nothing requiring energy or exertion appealed to me. If anything, I felt like taking an afternoon nap, although I didn’t because I had programming work to do.
In a previous post, I described how I considered myself a low-energy person back in my college days. I was also a regular wheat-eater in college. I felt today like I felt back then. Not exactly bad, but not good either. I certainly wouldn’t describe my mood today as optimistic, and if you’d told me to go push a lawnmower up and down a steep pasture for several hours in the heat and humidity, I can promise the reply wouldn’t have been cheerful.
The difference between today and my college days is that today’s low-energy feeling is temporary. I know the cause and the cure.
Good food, good mood. Not-so-good food, not-so-good mood.
Food equals mood.
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Hello again, Fat Heads. We just put in a tough morning doing some inshore fishing on Mobile Bay, so instead of composing another missive from my current reading list, I’m going to save that and share one of the Oldest Son’s recent creations. His Faux Carb Pizza remains a crowd pleaser, so he’s got some street cred with us LCHF types. It doesn’t get much lower carb or higher fat than macadamia nut butter! Here it is:
(Eric got his macadamia nuts from Amazon.com, but our local megamart has them in the bulk section now.)
1/2 lb of raw macadamia nuts – blend until semi smooth. Can also roast before.
Then add in order:
2 tbl melted coconut oil
1 Tbsp honey + 1 or 2 tsp
1 tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt
Pulse everything until smooth
Crunchy version: same thing, but when done, add another handful of macadamias or cashews and pulse.
If you want it even sweeter, add a few drops of liquid stevia instead of more honey as the honey will overpower the macadamia taste.
Tip: anytime you have to measure out honey or molasses (I know those aren’t low carb), spray the cup/spoon with coconut oil before. Stuff slides right out and easy to clean.
… And that’s it. The maca butter is delicious, but I think that tip is worth the price of admission just by itself!
Cheers from Dauphin Island!
The Older Brother
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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.
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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.
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