Cheaper Health Care

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(I’ll be posting this on both of my blogs, since it’s partly about health, partly about politics and current events. Pretty convenient for me, since I’m in play rehearsals and don’t have as much time to write.)

There are a lot of proposals to “fix” health care floating around, all with various cost predictions – most of which are probably about as accurate as the predictions provided by a magic 8 ball. Whatever price tags you’re seeing now, just triple them in your mind. That way, the actual cost will only be double what you expected.

I have my own proposals to address the rising costs of health care. And unlike the proposals coming out of Congress, I don’t need thousands of pages to explain them. Better yet, my proposals aren’t based on the theory that the best way to bring down health-care costs is to spend another trillion dollars or so. In fact, my proposals would actually save the taxpayers money.

Seriously, they would. And I’m not talking about the kind of pie-in-the-sky “We’ll spend billions on this program now, but it will save money in the long run” nonsense that usually comes out of Washington. (If just half of the “save money in the long run” predictions I’ve heard in my lifetime had come true, we’d be running huge surpluses right now.) Nope, I’m talking about real, spend-less-money savings.

Here’s how the federal government can realize those savings:

  • Stop telling us what to eat, and admit that the earlier attempts to tell us what to eat were a mistake.
  • Stop subsidizing corn and other grains.

These proposals would produce both short-term and, more importantly, long-term savings. The short-term savings are based on a principle of economics that’s so stupidly simple, even the average congressman can grasp it: if you stop spending money, you end up spending less.

For decades, the federal government has been employing people whose job is to tell us what they think we should eat. In addition to their salaries, taxpayers also pay for the dubious research they conduct and the mountains of literature they produce and distribute. I say “dubious” because the primary purpose of the current research seems to be to prove that their previous advice wasn’t actually wrong … which it was. We don’t need these people. And for reasons I’ll explain shortly, we would’ve been better off without them.

The taxpayers also foot the bill for billions of dollars in annual farm subsidies. These subsidies were enacted in the 1930s as a “temporary” solution to the price shocks and instability of the Great Depression – which apparently never actually ended. In our continuing efforts to lift ourselves out of the Great Depression, we now provide wealthy corporations like Archer Daniels Midland with subsidy payments. Same goes for “farmers” like Scottie Pippin, the former star forward for the Chicago Bulls, who without government checks would no doubt have to strap his trophies to the top of a rusty old truck and seek work in California.

But even as the country struggles to escape the effects of the stock market crash of 1929, it’s probably time to end those subsidies. And we’d be healthier if we did, again for reasons I’ll explain shortly. In the meantime, we’d save billions – instantly. Once again, for the benefit of any federal policy-makers out there: if you stop spending money, you end up spending less.

The long-term savings are based on another economic principle that’s not stupidly simple, but merely logical, so at this point we’ll probably lose any government policy-makers who happen to stumble across the blog. But here it is anyway: When lots and lots of people get sick, health-care costs go up.

I know, I know … you probably thought we’re just as healthy as ever, but the insurance companies keep jacking up their rates simply because nobody’s had the political will to stop them. The fact is, the profit margin in the health-insurance industry is pretty much what it’s always been: around 3%. (Actually, a report I saw recently said it’s dropped to about 2.2% in recent years.) Insurers aren’t creating the spiraling cost of health care; they’re just passing it along to us in the form of spiraling premiums.

We can sit in town hall meetings and shout all we want about pre-existing conditions, levels of reimbursement, co-payments, deductibles, portability, public versus private competition, and the true number of the uninsured. None of that changes the simple fact that when people get sick enough to require medical care, someone is going to pay for it.

Shifting the cost of being sick from one group of people to another doesn’t reduce the cost; it just sticks someone else with the bill. The only way to reduce to the real cost of medical care (aside from refusing to treat sick people, which isn’t a good idea) is to require a lot less of it.

We require much more medical treatment than we should largely because the federal government told us what we should eat, and by gosh, we listened. As you already know if you’ve seen Fat Head or read Good Calories, Bad Calories, the only macronutrient we consume more of now than in previous generations is carbohydrates. (We’ve actually cut back on fat, especially men.)

This didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of a senate committee on nutrition, headed by George McGovern, who believed everyone should switch to a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet to prevent heart disease. Plenty of researchers and scientists, including the head of the National Academy of Sciences, tried to tell the committee they were wrong – but McGovern knew he was right because his own doctor said so. (With that kind of authority backing you, it’s just a waste of time to wait for actual scientific proof.)

And so, with a big push from the McGovern committee, the FDA and the USDA, the low-fat, high-carb diet became the rage. We became a nation of fat-phobic grain and sugar eaters.

Meanwhile, the federal government made it cheaper for us to eat sugar and starch through massive grain subsidies. As the old farmer told the stars of King Corn, “You couldn’t make any money growing corn if not for the government payments.” Those government payments are the reason we feed cattle corn instead of letting them eat grass as nature intended. Subsidies are the reason high-fructose corn syrup is in half the products you’ll find in the grocery store, including bread. Dirt-cheap subsidized corn is the reason for Big Gulps and endless refills at the soda dispenser.

And here’s the happy result of all that government involvement in food and nutrition: Nearly one-fourth of all senior citizens have type II diabetes.  Just think of the impact on Medicare expenditures. Diabetes isn’t just a disease; it’s a driver of many other ailments, including kidney failure, blindness, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Diabetes puts senior citizens in wheelchairs. It puts them in assisted-care facilities. And as a harbinger of health-care disasters yet to come, type II diabetes is even showing up in adolescents now. That never used to happen.

You are paying the toll for the diabetes epidemic even if you’re in fine health and have private insurance. Your taxes, of course, pay for all those diabetes-related Medicare costs – but so do your health-insurance premiums, whether you realize it or not.

You’ve probably seen media stories about hospitals charging $10 for an aspirin. Perhaps you were even outraged at the very idea. But there’s a reason hospitals put $10 aspirins on your bill: Medicare, expensive as it is, doesn’t actually cover the full cost of many treatments hospitals are required to provide. So they make up for the Medicare deficits with $10 aspirins and other exorbitant charges – all billed to your insurance.

Much, if not the majority, of our ever-increasing health-care costs are driven by chronically high blood sugar and diabetes. But diabetes isn’t like the swine flu. We aren’t catching it from each other. We don’t need to spend billions of dollars to develop a type II diabetes vaccine.

What we need is for officials in Washington to stop beating up on the health-care industry, and instead call a giant press conference to make an announcement like this:

Ladies and gentlemen, the nutrition advice we’ve been handing out since the 1970s was clearly wrong. You could even say it was dead wrong. Saturated fats are not and never have been the cause of heart disease and cancer. And let’s face it, fat is delicious. We scared you away from a taste your body loves, and we feel really stupid about that. We especially feel stupid about recommending corn-oil margarine. It tastes awful and it promotes inflammation. It’s not a natural food, despite the picture of the hot-looking Native American lady on the box.

It turns out we should have been warning you about sugars and starches all along. Those are the real problem. So please, embrace your fatty foods. Enjoy your meats, your eggs, your cheeses, and be sure to drizzle lots of butter on your vegetables. We were at least right about the vegetables. But we were totally wrong about grains. They’re not a natural food for humans, and you should try to cut back on them as much as possible.

And to encourage you to do so, we’re going to cease all farm subsidies so the price of grain-based foods will reflect the actual cost of production. We suspect a lot of corn farmers will choose to retire or grow other crops, and we wish them well.

Again, we’re very sorry, and we have all turned in our resignations. Thank you, and enjoy your dinners.

No, this wouldn’t solve the problem overnight. Millions of people are already sick. Somebody is going to pay to treat them. But we could at least prevent future generations from developing the same diseases. That alone would stop the spiral.

Then, with the cost of health care held in check by actual health, we could resume debating about who’s going to pay for the costs of treating injuries and illnesses that aren’t caused by metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

I have a feeling it would be a much more civil discussion. Lower bills tend to have that effect on people.


Jimmy and MONICA: A Tale From the Heart

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The alleged person Jimmy Moore

The alleged person Jimmy Moore

I’ve never actually met Jimmy Moore, so I can’t say for sure he’s real.  Sure, I read his Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb blog every day, we exchange emails regularly, we’ve spoken on the phone, and he’s threatened to drop by for a visit in October, when he’ll be in Nashville for a wedding.  Still, he may be a pod person, created by the meat and dairy industries to fool us into thinking their products won’t kill us. (His shows, after all, are called “podcasts” … coincidence?)

I’m suspicious because Jimmy’s total cholesterol is well over 300, which puts him in the category I sang about in the closing song for Fat Head:  “I’m shopping for my coffin, but don’t shed me any tears … ‘cuz according to the experts, I’ve been dead for several years.”

Score that high on a cholesterol test, and your doctor will break into an impression of the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, arms flying in opposite directions as he lurches for a bottle of Lipitor and a defibrillator at the same time.

To make matters worse, Jimmy has a family history of heart disease.  His father had a quintuple bypass a year ago.  His brother Kevin died of heart failure at age 41.  And Jimmy was morbidly obese for much of his life.

Worst of all, Jimmy lives on a diet that’s around 70% fat (much of it saturated), and he has committed the cardinal sin of refusing to accept the sacrament of statin drugs, despite many warnings from his doctor.  In other words, according to the Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living a Long and Healthy Life, Jimmy is a condemned man, a heart attack waiting to happen.

And yet when he had a heart scan recently, the amount of plaque build-up in his arteries was measured at …(drum roll, please) … Zero.  None.  Nada.  No plaque.  Despite being a walking bundle of supposed risk factors, he has no signs of heart disease whatsoever.

This goes against everything we’ve been told about heart disease for the past 40-plus years. (Or, as his doctor put it when reading the test results, “That’s not possible.”)  If Jimmy does visit in October, I may have to serve him a drink in a cracked glass so I can send a blood sample to a lab.  There’s a good chance it will come back labeled “Not human, unable to identify.”

But let’s assume Jimmy is human, and is also alive and well.  Perhaps he’s just an outlier.  Surely, if we compare cholesterol levels and heart disease across large populations, we’ll see a pattern, right?


Check out this video by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, author of the very enlightening and very funny book The Great Cholesterol Con, speaking about the world-wide MONICA study:

Dr. Kendrick arranged his data to demonstrate a crazy up-and-down pattern in the heart-disease death rate as you go up the cholesterol scale.  I was curious what the data would look like on a scatter chart.  (Yes, I’m that big of a dweeb.) 

So I went prospecting for MONICA data on the internet and ended up finding two useful nuggets:  1) average cholesterol levels for men in various countries, and 2) heart-disease death rates for men aged 35 to 75 in those same countries – in other words, men who died prematurely due to heart disease.  (If I die of a heart attack at age 95, I’ll consider it a victory.)

I plotted the results for 40 of the most populous countries.  But before we get to those, take a look at these charts, courtesy of Tony at Emotions for Engineers, demonstrating what different degrees of correlation look like:

A perfect correlation equals 1.0, which produces a trendline starting in the lower left and rising to the upper right.  If x (horizontal axis) causes y (vertical axis), the data from studies comparing them should be strongly correlated.  Researchers rarely get excited about a correlation of less than 0.8, unless their grants are running out.

With that in mind, take a look at the average cholesterol levels for men in 40 countries plotted against the annual heart-attack death rates per 100,000 men in those same countries:

Do you see a meaningful pattern there?  If so, you probably also see secret messages from the CIA in crossword puzzles and college baseball scores – published solely for your benefit, of course. 

Or perhaps you just work for one of the organizations that’s been promoting the Lipid Hypothesis for the past 50 years.  I found and downloaded the MONICA data from the official website of the British Heart Foundation, the U.K. equivalent of the American Heart Association.  The same site includes (of course) recommendations for reducing your risk of a heart attack:

It is now universally recognised that a diet which is high in fat, particularly saturated fat, sodium and sugar and which is low in complex carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables increases the risk of chronic diseases – particularly cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer … The dietary changes which would help to reduce rates of coronary heart disease (CHD) in the UK population were detailed in the 1994 report of the Government’s Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA). This recommended a reduction in fat intake, particularly saturated fat intake, a reduction in sodium intake and an increase in fruit and vegetable and complex carbohydrate intake.

I ran the CORREL function on the data in Excel, and the result was -0.25 … a negative correlation.  In other words, there is no meaningful correlation at all, but the tiny correlation that does exist would point towards heart disease rates going down as cholesterol levels go up

I can only imagine the conversations that go on in organizations like this when they look at the results of large studies like MONICA:

“Did you finish analyzing the cholesterol data?”

“Yes, Doctor Higginbotham, all done.”


“A careful analysis of the data from 40 of the largest countries shows no relationship between cholesterol levels and heart disease whatsoever.”

“Hmm … that’s it, then.  We’d better keep telling people to cut back on saturated fat.”

“Why, Doctor?”

“Because it raises cholesterol.”

“But … uh … I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Well, it’s complicated, so let me explain it this way:  Shut up.”

Fortunately, a lot of doctors like Malcolm Kendrick and Uffe Ravnskov and Mike Eades refuse to shut up.  Same goes for a lot of bloggers like Jimmy Moore.

Yes, Jimmy has high cholesterol – very high, by most standards.  But he also has very low triglycerides and high HDL, and only 2 percent of his “too high” LDL is the small, dense type that can penetrate the walls of an artery and lead to heart disease.  He achieved those numbers by ignoring the experts and cutting the sugars and starches from his diet, not the fats.  He’s not an outlier, any more than the hundreds of thousands of people who die from heart disease every year despite having low cholesterol. 

As for whether or not Jimmy Moore really exists …I’ll let you know in October.


Real Food by the Well Done Chef, Part Two

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Jason Sandeman, a chef and writer who produces the Well Done Chef blog, offered to write an occasional guest column, including step-by-step recipes for preparing real food.  Below is Jason’s latest guest post.  (You can read his previous guest column here.) 

Fall is around the corner, and your tomato vine is bursting with ruby red colored tomatoes. In fact, if you are like me, you have so many that you cannot possibly use them all. Your friends and family shy away from you around this time of year, afraid if they shake your hand, they’ll arrive home and find tomatoes in their pockets. You have a real problem on your hands, and you need to act before the fruit flies take up residence.

Below is a simple recipe that you can follow to take those tomatoes to the next level. You can also store them for a long while, up to 6 months in the freezer. See after the recipe for some tips on using this creation.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: up to 2 hours
Difficulty: easy

Makes 60 half tomatoes, about 1 plastic container full


  • 30 Roma tomatoes (I prefer these, but you can substitute whatever you are growing on your vine.)
  • Extra-Virgin olive oil to coat
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 bunch of thyme
  • to taste salt
  • to taste pepper

1 cookie pan with sides at least 1/2 inch deep


Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise, keeping the core intact.

Toss in a large bowl with the extra-virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, salt and pepper.

Line the tomatoes cut-side down on the cookie sheet; nestle the garlic cloves and thyme sprigs in between rows of tomatoes. Drizzle remaining olive oil over the tomatoes.

Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, until the skins blister.


Remove from the oven, peel off skins. (I save them for veal stock, but you can throw them away if you like.) Pour off the juice into a container; reserve.*

Lower the temperature of the oven to 135°C (275°F).

Place the tomatoes back into the oven and roast for 20 minutes.


Remove tray from the oven; pour off juices into container, place the tomatoes back into the oven.


Repeat as necessary, until the tomatoes are not giving off any juices, and are almost dry.

Remove from oven; cool. Pick out the garlic cloves and thyme. Reserve the roasted garlic for another use.

Pack tomatoes into a container with a little extra-virgin olive oil and refrigerate. The tomatoes will keep up to 2 weeks refrigerated, or up to 6 months frozen.

*Note: The juices you save would make a great base for a tomato vinaigrette. Perhaps that is another post?

Now, for the bonus part. Take an onion, fry until soft, add 10 or so oven roasted tomatoes. Add 500 mL (2 cups) of the chicken stock in my previous guest post. Chop some fresh oregano or basil,and toss it in the pot. Blend the mixture until smooth with a hand blender. Voila! Near-instant soup. Let’s see franken foods create that!


Newsweek: Hating Fat People Is Bologna

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If you’ve read or heard some of my press interviews, you know that Fat Head didn’t actually begin as a response to Super Size Me. My intention was a shoot a demo for a TV show I wanted to produce: funny but thoughtful guy examines issues of the day.  The topic I planned to explore for the pilot episode was the ridiculous prejudice we have against fat people in modern society.  I watched Super Size Me as part of my initial research, became very annoyed, and decided to produce Fat Head instead.

Last week, Newsweek’s online edition ran a two-part article that’s related to my original idea. The Fat Wars: America’s Weight Rage is a good read, with one exception:  the author believes too much fatty food has made us fat.  The second part is titled Fat and Healthy: Why It’s Possible – another theme I touched on in Fat Head.  Here are some quotes, with my comments.

Cintra Wilson, style columnist for The New York Times, recently wrote a column so disdainful of JCPenney’s plus-size mannequins that the Times’ ombsbudman later wrote that he could read “a virtual sneer” coming through her prose.

I haven’t seen the plus-size mannequins, but I’m glad to know JCPenny’s has them. When I walk through a mall and see stick-figure mannequins in every store window, it annoys me. Most women will never look like that, even if they’re not fat, for the simple reason that most women don’t have bones the size of toothpicks. Sending the message to teenage girls and young women that they should all be this skinny is a prescription for bulimia.

Fatness has always been seen as a slight on the American character. Ours is a nation that values hard work and discipline, and it’s hard for us to accept that weight could be not just a struggle of will, even when the bulk of the research-and often our own personal experience-shows that the factors leading to weight gain are much more than just simple gluttony.

If being lean were simply a matter of being disciplined – usually defined as eating less – there would be very few obese people in America. People don’t eat because they’re gluttonous or compensating for a lousy childhood. They eat because their cells run out of fuel and they become hungry. Starving yourself may work temporarily, but it goes against your deepest, most primal instincts.  It can also depress your metabolism and make it more likely you’ll gain weight when you finally give in to the hunger and eat more.

The real problem, of course, is that we’ve been told to eat lots of high-carbohydrate foods that tell our bodies to store fuel as fat … which in turn makes us hungrier than we should be.

“There’s this general perception that weight can be controlled if you have enough willpower, that it’s just about calories in and calories out,” says Dr. Glen Gaesser, professor of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University and author of BigFat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health, and that perception leads the nonfat to believe that the overweight are not just unhealthy, but weak and lazy.

The funny thing is, most of the lean people I know don’t count calories at all – because they don’t have to. At mealtimes, my naturally-thin wife does the same thing I do: she eats until she’s not hungry anymore. So does my son, who eats like a horse (that is, if horses liked potato chips and Coca-Cola) but literally can’t gain weight – he’s tried, both while playing high-school basketball and during boot camp.

“A lot of people struggle themselves with their weight, and the same people that tend to get very angry at themselves for not being able to manage their weight are more likely to be biased against the obese,” says Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. “I think that some of this is that anger is confusion between the anger that we have at ourselves and projecting that out onto other people.”

Been there, done that. Before I understood that carbohydrates were making me fat, I’d try eating less, lose a few pounds, then stall, then give up. Then I’d look at myself in the mirror after my morning shower and think, “You fat @#$%!  Why don’t you just stick to a diet and get rid of this blubber?” This is what 40 years of bad dietary advice has done to millions of people.

What is it about fat people that makes us so mad? As it turns out, we kind of like it. “People actually enjoy feeling angry,” says Ryan Martin, associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, who cites studies done on people’s emotions. “It makes them feel powerful, it makes them feel greater control, and they appreciate it for that reason.”

I’ve said it more times than I count: some people aren’t happy unless they’re angry about something. You can usually spot those people by counting the number of bumper-stickers on their cars. If you count more than two, for Pete’s sake, don’t do anything the driver could construe as cutting him off in traffic – especially if you’re fat.

Think of health care: when president Obama made reforming health care a priority, it led to an increased focus on obesity as a contributor to health-care costs. A recent article in Health Affairs, a public-policy journal, reported that obesity costs $147 billion a year, mainly in insurance premiums and taxes … So the overweight, some people argue, are costing all of us money while refusing to alter the behavior that has put them in their predicament in the first place.

Here’s a crazy idea: maybe the people who make that argument are attacking the wrong end of the equation. If we didn’t make everyone pay for every else’s health care, it wouldn’t be an issue.  And of course, it’s not obesity that drives up health-care costs – it’s high blood sugar. Obesity is a symptom, not the cause. Both of the type II diabetics in my family are lean as rails. They use a lot more medical resources than I do, and I’m considered overweight.

A study published last month in the Annals of Surgery supported this “obesity paradox.” The report, which looked at more than 100,000 patients who had undergone nonbariatric general surgery, found that overweight and moderately obese patients had mortality rates 15 and 27 percent lower, respectively, than normal-weight patients.

That’s it, then … the next time I run into a skinny person on the street, I’m going to grab him by the arm and scream, “Stop wasting my health-care tax dollars, you scrawny @#$%! Go grab a donut and a soda, then sit your skinny @## down and gain some weight! Discipline, Man! Discipline!”

The point is that not all fat people are unhealthy or out of shape, and not all thin people are healthy and in good shape. But it’s amazing how many people make those assumptions.

Years ago, I had a good friend in Chicago who’s one those naturally-lean types. One day he got a guest pass for the health club where I was a member and joined me for a workout. As we huffed and puffed our way around the Nautilus circuit, I could tell by his expression that he was frustrated to realize he couldn’t lift nearly as much weight as I could. (He more or less admitted as much later.) Until that day, he’d assumed my belly and love handles were a sign that I was in lousy shape.

But I wasn’t in lousy shape. I worked out regularly and walked 15 to 20 miles per week. I was actually in pretty good shape. I was also fat.

To close, I put together a sequence of clips from my interview with Dr. Eric Oliver, author of “Fat Politics,” who spoke about some of the same issues brought up in the Newsweek article. If you bought the Fat Head DVD (and bless you if you did), you’ll recognize some of this footage from the bonus tracks.


The Protein Tree

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I swear I didn’t put her up to this. Yesterday, my five-year-old was given this homework assignment:

Please decorate the attached tree in a way that best illustrates your family. Complete and attach the sentence to go along with the way your tree is decorated. For example, “My family tree is a banana tree because my family is like silly monkeys.” You can make any kind of tree you believe best describes your family.

So what did my daughter come up with? Silly monkeys? A tree full of nuts from California? Nope. This is the type of tree she decided best represents her family, without any suggestions from Mommy or Daddy:

Great. If her teacher took any standard-issue nutrition courses in college, she’ll probably see this and make a note: “Tree full of nuts from California. Watch carefully for signs of learning disabilities.”

I should mention at this point that my wife and I are careful not to be food Nazis. If our daughters ask for a potato or toast or cereal, they get it. They just don’t ask very often. If they’re offered a sugary treat, as happened today when a classmate of my five-year-old’s brought cookies in honor of his birthday, they can have it. But they often say no thanks, which is what my daughter did today. Here’s why:

Yup. My daughter knows a “cooky” or an “iscrem” cone is nothing but a big load of sugar. And in her scientific opinion, a load of sugar is classified as “Yuk!!!” Since she wasn’t raised eating sugary snacks, she just doesn’t crave them.

Here’s what she does like:

Eggs and “sbinich” are “Yum!!!” Before we had kids, I always heard how difficult it is to get them to eat their vegetables. My girls like their vegetables – but that’s probably because we serve them drizzled with melted butter. (I seriously doubt anyone would pay $30 for a lobster tail if not for the melted butter, as far as that goes.)

Shortly after we moved to Tennessee, a neighbor stopped by to welcome us. The welcome included a tub of homemade broccoli-cheese soup. Almost apologetically, she told us her kids won’t eat broccoli without the cheese. I suppose she was worried we’d think to ourselves, “Tsk-tsk! Giving your kids all that fatty cheese … shame on you.”

Not hardly. The meals my girls ate today are typical for their diets. Breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, a peach. Lunch: cheese sticks, apple slices. Dinner: Beef stew made from a pot roast, carrots, onions, mushrooms, and olive oil. (They loved it. They had seconds.) Snack: a dish of almonds.

According to the high priests of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life, my girls are badly nourished. They rarely eat whole grains, half grains, fractional grains, or any other grains that make up the base of the Food Pyramid. They eat a lot of meat, eggs, and saturated fat. In other words, they eat a lot like most human children did for nearly all of human history.

If they’re malnourished, I have yet to see any evidence of it. They’re lean and strong and energetic. (If they were any more energetic, my sanity would be at risk.) They both swim whenever they get the chance. They chase each other around the house. They dress up in costumes and put on shows – which are usually pretty good for the first two hours or so. The five-year-old loves to dance and takes dance classes.

She also likes to read, she makes up her own scientific “experiments,” and she was the only student in her class last year to get a perfect score on their first addition and subtraction test. I think we can safely assume her brain isn’t suffering from stage-four Cheerios deprivation.

If I sound proud, it’s only because I am. The girls are thriving on the Protein Tree. I wish I’d been raised there myself. Life on the Corn Tree wasn’t nearly as healthy.

The full homework assignment.

The full homework assignment.


Sprouts from the Protein Tree.  The four-year-old was trying to look frightening in the cat get-up.  She hasnt grasped yet that the thumb-sucking diminishes the effect.

Sprouts from the Protein Tree. The four-year-old was trying to look frightening in the cat get-up. She hasn't grasped yet that the thumb-sucking diminishes the effect.


Odds & Ends … or Duck-Duck-Goose

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I bookmarked a few news items recently, thinking they might be post-worthy. (I’ve accepted that “post-worthy” will never have quite the ring to it that “sponge-worthy” does, by the way.) None of them quite tickles my brain or my sense of righteous indignation enough to inspire a full post, so what the heck … I’ll make this post a collection of mini-posts.

Video-Gamers Are Fat And Depressed

According to this article on, the average video-game enthusiast is 35, overweight and depressed. Yeah, okay … he probably also lives in a room in his parents’ basement and works for the post office. So what?

I guess the “so what” is extremely important, because this study included investigators from the Centers for Disease Control, Emory University and Andrews University. As the article explains:

The hypothesis was that video-game players have a higher body mass index – the measure of a person’s weight in relation to their height – and “a greater number of poor mental health days” versus nonplayers, said Dr. James B. Weaver III of the CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing. The hypothesis was correct, he said.

Well, that’s great. In an era of trillion-dollar deficits, I’m delighted to know my tax dollars are being spent to discover whether people whose primary goal in life is to steal cars and kill bad guys on a video screen are overweight and don’t socialize much.

Video-game players also reported lower extraversion, consistent with research on adolescents that linked video-game playing to a sedentary lifestyle and overweight status, and to mental-health concerns.

You know where they’re headed with this, right? They probably want to warn us that if kids spend too much time playing video games, they’ll turn into fat, depressed, socially-stunted adults. If so, they’ve got the causality backwards.

It’s just like the observation that active people tend to be thinner, therefore (as researchers like to believe), being active must make you thin. Nope. As I’ve pointed out before, active people aren’t thin because they’re active; they’re active because they’re thin. Their bodies don’t like to store calories as fat, so they feel an impulse to move and burn off all that excess fuel.

Playing video games doesn’t make kids or adults fat and depressed, but if you are fat and depressed, you will probably spend more time playing video games.

I spent much of my adolescence as a fat, clumsy kid. When deciding how to spend my after-school time, my thought process went something like this: Hmmm … I could go join that softball game the other guys in the neighborhood are getting together, get picked dead last, strike out every time I’m at bat, maybe get lucky and walk once, then get tagged out at second on the next hit because I’m too damned slow around the bases, then listen to some creative insults delivered by Brian “Stinky” Pinkerton … or I could sit in front of the television where nobody will bother me. Boy, tough choice …

Substitute “video game” for “television,” and you’d probably have an approximate read on the mind of the fat, depressed video-game players – even if they’re 35.
I wasn’t a fat kid because I didn’t play softball; I didn’t play softball because I was a fat kid.

While the study helps “illuminate the health consequences of video-game playing,” it is not conclusive, its researchers say, but rather serves to “reveal important patterns in health-related correlates of video-game playing and highlights avenues for future research.”

Ah yes, this is only the beginning for this fascinating field of research. Next, let’s study the mating habits of the 35-year-old video-game players. Perhaps the research could be funded by the makers of the RealDoll.

The Scientific Method

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice: correlation does not mean causation. You’d think trained scientists would understand that concept, but sadly, many don’t. The emphasis on a “link” between playing video games and being overweight and depressed is just one example.

When I was in college, my physics professor showed us this clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail as an example of how the scientific method can be mangled. It’s still funny, and Sir Bedivere’s logic is every bit as good as the logic behind the “fat raises cholesterol and causes heart attacks” theory.

American Heart Association Warns About Sugar

The American Heart Association is now warning that Americans consume too much sugar.

Let’s see, that would be the same American Heart Association that believes that if a steak weighs the same as a duck, and duck-hunters sometimes die of heart attacks, and ducks lay eggs, then eating steaks and eggs causes heart attacks. That would also be the same American Heart Association that puts its stamp of approval on high-sugar cereals like Cocoa Puffs because they’re low in fat. If the AHA now believes sugar is bad for your heart, they’ve got some explaining to do.

By the way, Ancel Keys, who popularized the Lipid Hypothesis with his bogus study showing an association between fat and heart disease, failed to either notice or mention that sugar consumption was even more strongly associated with heart disease. Keys also ended up on the board of the American Heart Association … and the rest is history.

“Resistant Starch” Reduces Insulin Resistance?

I saw this story about how “resistant starch” reduces insulin resistance and other symptoms of diabetes on several news sites. I ended up reading several versions of the story only because I was wondering how starch of any kind could reduce insulin levels, and I was trying to get an answer to a rather important question: compared to what, exactly?

I finally found the answer here.  Some quotes:

While all dietary fibers decrease the glycemic and insulin response when they substitute for digestible carbohydrates, the fermentation effects distinguish resistant starch from other types of dietary fiber.

23 studies have shown beneficial effects of RS2 from high amylose corn on glucose and/or insulin response. When substituted for flour, it lowers the glycemic and/or insulin response of foods in a dose-dependent manner.

Exactly as I suspected … they’re comparing the effects of resistant starch to the effects of white flour. So let me explain this one more time:

If one group of ducks who aren’t made of wood smoke unfiltered cigarettes, and another group of ducks who aren’t made of wood smoke filtered cigarettes, and both groups of ducks weigh the same as a witch and float in water, the ducks who smoke the filtered cigarettes will end up with a lower rate of cancer.

That doesn’t mean filtered cigarettes “reduce” cancer. It simply means they’re less likely to cause cancer, as Sir Bedivere could tell you. And yet here’s a quote that appeared in most of the news stories:

These improvements are actually bigger than you get with most blood glucose lowering drugs,” said lead researcher Dr. Denise Robertson.

Great … we’ve got a supposed scientists hawking the insulin-reducing benefits of a commercial food product, without bothering to compare the results of eating the stuff with the results of avoiding starch altogether. I bet Dr. Robertson weighs the same as a duck and could turn anyone who points out the flaws in this study into a newt.

Examiner Interview, Part Two

Part two of my interview with Cameron English of the Eldorado County Conservative Examiner appeared today. If you missed part one, you can read it here.