Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
Like my PJ colleague Liz Shield, I dislike government nannies of any kind. Yet, I can’t help but be pleased with the latest recommendation from the Feds: “A dietary pattern that is higher in plant(s) … and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact.” And it has nothing to do with the quantity of methane in cow farts.
The reality is that a plant-based diet is better for your health. Note, I did not say vegan, nor vegetarian. “Plant-based” is a style of diet that puts plants before meat and any other processed product you’d put into your body. Mediterranean diets proffering fish, poultry and other lean meats are highly plant based and continue to prove to be one of the best diets for optimal health. And we aren’t just talking physical health, either. Mental health is hugely impacted by the quantity and quality of vitamins and minerals we take in on a daily basis. Both psychological studies and personal experience testify to the fact that kids and adults who eat veggies are happier, healthier, and less likely to be drugged on behavioral medications. What’s going to be a richer, diverse source of nutrients, a dinner that is 75% greens or 75% processed cow parts?
Yet, we cringe at the idea of public school kids being fed salad for lunch. Salad isn’t a bad thing, having the government tell us what we can and can’t eat is a bad thing. In our resistance to government interference, we risk missing the greater point: What we eat matters. Studies come and go and the factors that go into these studies, especially from a funding and lobbying point of view, are never adequately addressed. Surely this latest line is a political one meant to motivate environmentalist legislation above all else. But that doesn’t turn the grain of truth, the reality that a plant-based diet is good for you, into a lie. If anything, it abuses the truth for a political point. That abuse, not the recommendation to eat plants, is the sin in the conversation.
Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Michael T. Hamilton
Broken Promise #1: I’ll Never Be One of Them
Last night, as we were finishing dinner, my wife described the worst dessert she’s ever eaten:
“You take pears–canned pears, in heavy, heavy syrup. Fish out one of the halves and slide it into one of those little white bowls your mom has—not a ramekin, but a step up. Then [shudders] you top it with—are you ready?—mayonnaise. MAYONNAISE. Next, take a piece of extra sharp cheddar cheese, and a strainer, and you hold them like this [hands in front of her], and then you [with vengeance] push the cheese through with your thumbs, to make tiny curly cues. Then you sprinkle the curly cues on top of the mayonnaise and syrupy canned pear—and you eat it, in a house with cats.”
[Silence. Then—] “That’s revolting. You eat that with a fork?”
“You eat it with a spoon. If you eat it with a fork you miss some of the mayonnaise.”
That—right there—what you’re feeling now. For years, that’s how I felt about going “gluten free”: the concept itself, the food, and (on rare occasion) even some of the people—until, on January 5, 2015, I became one of them.
Someday I’ll tell you why. For now, though, I’m cleaning up some GF-certified broken promises.
Broken Promise #2: I’ll Never Let My Gluten Freedom Dominate Literally Every Conversation in the Room
I’ve learned a lot in the last five years about the ignorance, prejudice, and snobbery with which I once regarded my gluten-free brethren—excluding, of course, those actually diagnosed, by a medical professional (bigoted of me, I know)—with Celiac or a legitimate gluten allergy.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that most of my prejudices were unfounded. But not all.
There are two kinds of biscuits in the gluten-free bag. The first: well-adjusted people, in charge of themselves and of their gluten freedom. These people I term “GFs.” A sub-sect of these, however, have lips as loose as cannons sliding all over a gluten-free warship, spilling gluten-free facts about their gluten-free lives, shortening the fuses of their wheat-eating friends, until the friends are ready to blow themselves up just for the chance to slip Nut Job over there a Saltine. Such people aren’t just gluten free; they’re Gluten Freaks.
GFs can be the coolest people you’ll ever meet, like the homeschooler whose parents gave a rip about their son acquiring human friends. Gluten Freaks, by contrast, walk into your life out of Gulliver’s Travels. They get to educating you, and everyone you used to like, until your eyes cross. But they’re nothing compared to the Gluten Jedis. These captivate you so that you actually want to stand there listening to your favorite childhood food memories get tortured, contaminated, and destroyed as chaff. They spellbind you over dessert with quasi-religious, gluten-free incantations. They have their own sacred myths:
In the beginning God made everything very good. Except for the gluten. And he bade the man, ‘From every tree you shall eat, except for the Gluten Tree.’ And the man said, ‘Clearly you’ve never tasted Eve’s yeast rolls. Let me tell you, they’re sinfully good’—and ate unto damnation.
That’s Gluten Freakishness. I know, because I’ve done it.
Broken Promise #3: I’ll Never Abandon Craft Beer, Having Already Done It Once and Experienced Dark Sadness
One month before we left Boston for Dayton, I stood with my fellow English teacher friends in a dimly lit, wildly renovated basement-turned-scotch bar that was profiting by making chairless dining appear charming. During a lull in the electronic music enveloping us, I told them I would soon be giving up alcohol because my next school had a temperance clause in its contract. (Temperance not as “moderation,” but as “You’re actually signing this? Are you that unemployable?”)
Right then the musical humming swelled something fierce, so I couldn’t hear my friends—who for three years had schooled me in the art of home brewing, helped me buy my own equipment, and taught me the value of hops. But the messages on their faces were clear:
“Good God, Mike, what are you gonna do?”
“You need a stiff drink.”
“You’re turning into worse than one of those anti-gluten fanatics.”
By then I had home brewed enough small batches and toured the Samuel Adams and Harpoon breweries enough times to know how to really appreciate a microbrew for its myriad complexities: color, clarity, aroma, mouthfeel, maltiness, hoppiness, bitterness, carbonation, and packaging.
So, rich as my next three years of teaching were, a portion of my gluten-loving soul slept through them until my exit. My Second Great Awakening included a return to spirits clear and spirits oaken, but it centered on my return to brewing. Home brew. At my home. I returned to glory last summer, brewing ten gallons (96 bottles) of an Imperial IPA. Then, as winter approached, I invented my own Molasses Oatmeal Stout recipe, brewing and storing 52 bottles in my basement. “And knowing how way leads onto way / I doubted if I should ever come back” to temperance.
Well, two months later, I came back, at least from beer, for as anyone acquainted with 16th-century German purity laws knows, a beverage properly called “beer” must consist of exactly four ingredients: water, yeast, hops, and malted barley or wheat. And as anyone acquainted with natural law knows, barley and wheat contain gluten.
I should be telling this with a sigh, considering that I’ve been reduced to bartering off my home brew for half-respectable bottles of whiskey.
Instead, however, just 80-some days after kicking gluten, I’m finding the “free” in “gluten freedom.” Soon I’ll explain how. I promise.
A woman in Fort Worth, Texas, is celebrating her 104th birthday and she proudly told reporters this week that despite her doctors’ admonitions, she has been drinking three Dr. Pepper sodas a day for 30 years.
“People try to give me a coffee for breakfast,” Elizabeth Sullivan said, “but I’d rather have a Dr. Pepper.”
“I started drinking about 40 years ago — three a day — and every doctor that sees me says ‘It’ll kill you’ but they die and I don’t, so there must be a mistake somewhere.”
Elizabeth is living proof that the doctors — and the food police in the White House — don’t always know best. Many people manage to live long and productive lives even when they don’t subsist on a diet of twigs and acorns.
“I’m feeling good! I’m glad I’m still here and I’m glad I’m not in a rest home,” Sullivan told reporters. “I’m glad I can read books and watch TV and have people come by to say hello.”
I raise my can of Dr. Pepper to you tonight, Mrs. Sullivan! Wishing you a Happy Birthday and many blessings in the coming year!
Monday, November 24th, 2014 - by Theodore Dalrymple
In my youth the government encouraged people to eat more eggs and butter and drink more milk for the sake of their health. Perhaps it was the right advice after a prolonged period of war-induced shortage, but no one would offer, or take, the same advice today. Nutritional advice is like the weather and public opinion, which is to say highly changeable.
How quickly things go from being the elixir of life to deadly poison! A recent paper from Sweden in the British Medical Journal suggests that, at least for people aged between 49 and 75, milk now falls into the latter category, especially for women.
Milk was once thought to protect against osteoporosis, the demineralization of bone that often results in fractures. It stood (partially) to reason that it should, for milk contains many of the nutrients necessary for bone growth.
On the other hand, it also stood (partially) to reason that it should do more harm than good, for consumption of milk increases the level of galactose in the blood and galactose has been found to promote ageing in many animals, up to and including mice. If you want an old mouse quickly, inject a young one with galactose.
In other words, there is reason to believe both that the consumption of milk does good and that it does harm. Which is it? This is the question that the Swedish researchers set out to answer.
So this is the latest goofy food fad: hot buttered toffee coffee. Basically, here’s the idea: you add unsalted butter, plus a little coconut oil, to coffee and whip it up in a blender, and drink that for breakfast. Nothing else. The theory is that this provides a good start for the day, leading to faster fat metabolism, increased mental alertness, weight loss, cures yaws, gives you greater strength, and conceals any foolish political contributions you may have made when young and foolish.
Well, maybe. Hot buttered drinks aren’t that unusual; Tibetans drink tea with butter. But the recipe sounds like a pain in the ass — coffee, boiling water, blender, and so on. But let’s apply a little thought here. Butter, reasonably enough, is basically 100 percent butterfat, and about 100 kcals a tablespoon. What you’re doing when you run it through a blender with liquid is returning the butterfat to an emulsion — you’re “re-creaming” it. Heavy cream, like whipping cream, is about half butterfat by volume (and 50 kcal per tablespoon). So it stands to reason that adding heavy cream to coffee would be effectively the same.
So I tried it. The recipe suggests between 2 and 6 Tsp of butter, so that’s 4 to 12 Tsp of cream — so make it 1/4 to 3/4 cup of cream. For the last couple of days, I’ve started the day by adding about a quarter cup of cream to a big cup of coffee, adding some Stevia because I’m not thrilled by coffee with cream and no sugar — I usually prefer black — and drinking that first thing.
Okay, I’ve got to say, it’s pretty satisfying; I don’t have any particular hunger until noonish. And from the pure caloric standpoint, it’s got no carbs at all, and only about 200 kcal. As to any other effects, well, it’s only been two days.
When I lived in Europe, I used to go to Paris every so often, and stayed in a little hotel in the 15th arrondissement. Regular French businessman’s hotel, nothing special. As with most European hotels they served “breakfast”; as with most French hotels, that consisted of a half a baguette, cafe au lait, a big lump of butter, and some jam. (And last night’s baguette at that, so it was a little hard.) You butter a chunk of the bread and dunk it, then eat it and drink the coffee. Now, I would have preferred eggs over easy and bacon, but honestly it was pretty good.
But it occurs to me that this isn’t far away from what we’re talking about: several hundred kcals of butterfat, coffee, and of course some carbs. Maybe it’s not such a crazy idea.
I really like my slow cooker, and I really like the week after St Patrick’s Day, when corned beef is suddenly cheap. And I like corned beef and cabbage and don’t even miss the potatoes — which are usually overcooked and watery anyway.
So here was a little bit different approach. Cooked a corned beef round in the slow cooker. Took it out and refrigerated it, as well as the broth. (I also cooked a brisket and sliced that hot. Different meal.)
The next day, I took the fat off the top of the broth, poured a good bit into a wok and rewarmed the corned beef (which I’d sliced after it was cold). Then I added a half head of cabbage and about 4 cups of turnip greens, which I’d sliced into roughly similar sized pieces. I simmered them for about ten minutes. There’s the result.
Continuing the effort to eat more vegetables, I got up this morning and felt ambitious, so I took out a bag of spinach and baby kale. I sauteed the greens with butter and olive oil and two sliced cloves of garlic, added some chopped onions and four beaten eggs, and about 2 Tablespoons of quesadilla cheese, and scrambled them.
This one worked good, but I think turnip greens and eggs are better.
Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg
I was standing, sleepily, at the counter of a coffeeshop in Union Station, waiting for the barista to remember I’d ordered a drink, when I overheard the woman behind me order hers:
“I’ll have a small latte.”
“What kind of milk?”
“Whole milk.” Pause. Muttered, half to herself: “The way God intended it.”
Maybe I was just cranky — it was my first day heading back to the office after a week out with the flu — but I had to fight the urge to say to her, “Just like God intended that sheep’s wool to be spun, woven, and dyed into your pretty pink plaid coat?”
I had little doubt it was a real wool coat. She looked like someone who would curl her lip at the thought of synthetic fabric touching her skin.
The interesting thing going through the blog is seeing how many days I curtailed posting or posted briefer or weirder because I was ill.
Now I was aware of having been in indifferent health for the last ten years or so. It’s nothing really bad or spectacularly interesting, which is part of the issue, because if it were, I could take time off and not feel guilty. I confess I have found myself at various occasions fantasizing about a stay in the hospital. Which is stupid, because no one rests in the hospital. (What I need, of course, is a stay in a remote cottage for a few days. Even if I’m writing.) And I knew that my health got much worse in the last year. 2013 was the pits, at least since August or so. But it is not unusual for me to spend every third week “down.” – Usually with an ear infection or a throat thingy or some kind of stomach bug.
My friends have said for years that this is because I don’t listen to my body’s signals to slow down or stop, so it has to bring me to a complete stop by making me too sick to work.
This is part of the reason Charlie Martin and I (in collaboration) are doing a series on taming the work monster. Part of it is that I have way too much to do, and part of it is that it’s really hard to compartmentalize things when you work from home. Eventually when we sell the house and move, we’d like to get a place where the office is a distinct area. It was pretty much all of the attic in our last house, which meant if I came downstairs for dinner (which I did) I didn’t go up again. But now my office is half of the bedroom (and before someone imagines me cramped in a corner, the bedroom runs the full front of the house. We just couldn’t figure out what to do with a room that size. We don’t sleep that much.) This is convenient in terms of my getting up really early to work, or of my going to bed way after my husband, because I’m right there… It’s also contributing to a 24/7 work schedule, because I can think “Oh, I should write about that” and roll out of bed, and do so. There is no “I have to be dressed, as the sons might be roaming the house” and there isn’t (as in the other house) “the attic will be cold.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan introduced an old term and then, annoyingly, redefined it. For Sir Karl Popper, the black swan was an observation about logical quantification: if you assert “all swans are white” then the observation of a single black swan falsifies the assertion.
Taleb’s observation is different, although related: he’s observing that really unexpected events are unexpected: we have a model of the world that says “The US mainland is secure from attack” that seems perfectly plausible on 10 September 2001; we believe “Islamist terrorism is on the run” and then a bomb blows up in Boston.
(There’s a more sophisticated way to deal with all of these called Bayesian inference. We’ll leave the details for a science column, but in a few words, a Bayesian starts with an assumed a priori estimate of the probability of an event. After observation, they have a new a postieriori estimate that incorporates new experience.)
But there’s yet a third way to think about these that shows us how mathematics and probability can show us surprising things.
(Yes, this is a diet and exercise column, just a little further down.)
Someone once said that a good epic starts in the middle. (Actually it was Horace, it was in his Ars Poetica around 13BC, and he made the distinction between something that started ab ovo, “from the egg”, or in medias res, “in the middle of things”, but then inserting a lengthy side bar with references to Classical Latin in a diet column might seem erudite but really would be sort of pretentious and silly, don’t you think?)
In any case, we’re starting in the middle of this story. Tomorrow, 5 January 2014, I’m starting the fifth (and sixth, more on this later) of my 13 week experiments in changing and improving my health and my life. The first one started in November 2012, more than a year ago, motivated by the most reasonable of things: I don’t want to die. I most especially don’t want to die young, and I felt like both of my parents had.
I have reasons to be concerned. I’ve had problems with my weight since I was six, and at the time I started this I was around 300 lbs, I was well along into type II diabetes, and I had severe sleep apnea that was manifesting in something close to narcolepsy. I live in a two-story house and I was finding that I was pre-planning trips up and down the stairs because they wore me out.
Now, a year later, I’ve made some significant changes. I’m around 265 lbs, my blood sugar is much improved, and I run up and down the stairs with wild abandon and cups of hot coffee. But I’m not done yet. I want to lose more weight, and I’ve got some new challenges in my life, with a new job and a certain feeling that I have more to do.
I am a regular guy. I have zero resemblance to the guys you see on the countless weight loss commercials currently running on television. I still have work to do to become more healthy. But I did something last year that I’ve never been able to do in a lifetime of weight struggles. I lost a significant amount of weight in a relatively short amount of time. Moreover, I did it in a healthy way, and I was able to keep it off.
How did I do it? Well, first let me tell you the basics. On January 1 of 2013 I weighed in at 283 pounds. I was significantly overweight. I was unhealthy, ate poorly, was very inactive, and took blood pressure medicine that I desperately needed. By May 1, 2013, I dropped 40 pounds, was eating much better, exercised 5-6 days a week, and was off blood pressure medicine. And most importantly, I felt great doing it. Well, what did I do? I could probably list 20 things, but I narrowed it down to five. And these are five things that I think can help anyone get healthier if they are ready for a change.
5. Make water your friend.
Have I lost you already? Is this too boring for you? Is this too simple? I don’t care. Do it! Drinking a ton of water was a key to my weight loss and I guarantee it’ll be a key to anyone else’s weight loss. Get yourself a big bottle that you don’t mind making your friend. Take it to work, drive with it, work out with it, and have it with you always. And then take sips all day, every day.
What’s the big deal about water? It has too many benefits for me to list them all, but here are a few: water suppresses your appetite, has zero bad stuff in it (drink filtered), increases metabolism, helps your body retain nutrients, is what your body is made of, helps maintain normal digestion, and energizes muscles. There are more, but those are enough reasons for any of us to start diving into some H2O.
Water is your new friend. Save money by drinking water instead of other beverages. That’ll free up some income to buy healthier foods. Drink a full glass of water before a meal and it’ll both speed up your metabolism and make you eat less. Get at least 64 ounces a day. And if you think that’s a lot, then check out your biggie cup of soda. I bet it’s at least 32 ounces. Put down the soda and pick up a big bottle of water.
You’re going to need to be well-hydrated if you are going to do number 4.
Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013 - by Theodore Dalrymple
Some years ago a medical paper was published that caused a run on Brazil nuts throughout the western world. For a time they disappeared entirely from supermarket shelves; for Brazil nuts contain a high level of selenium and the medical paper had suggested that the high rate of heart attacks in a certain province of China was caused by the exceptionally low level of selenium in the inhabitants’ diet.
But of course for every panacea there is an equal and opposite health scare. Brazil nuts concentrate radium and give off more radiation than any other food; they also often contain relatively high levels of aflatoxin, produced by a fungus of the Aspergillus genus. Aflatoxins are very carcinogenic, leading to cancer of the liver.
So where Brazil nuts are concerned, the question boils down to whether you would prefer to die of heart attack or cancer.
A paper in a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that, overall, nuts are very good for you. The authors compared the death rates among female nurses and male health nurses according to their self-reported consumption of nuts. They divided nut consumption into true nuts and peanuts, the latter being legumes rather than nuts.
I never cease to be amazed at the organizational feat of such studies: 76,464 women and 42,498 men were followed up between 1980 and 2010 and 1986 and 2010, respectively. After various statistical manipulations which 99 percent of the readership of the NEJM would not understand it was found that the more nuts people ate (including the false nuts known as peanuts), the lower their all-cause mortality. They didn’t just die less of such illnesses as heart attack, stroke and cancer, but of all illnesses whatsoever. At last, then, the panacea!
People who ate nuts more than seven times a week(!), hunter-gatherer style, had a 20 percent less chance of dying in the period of follow up than those who never ate nuts. This is a very big effect, for me almost too big to be believed.
Okay, look, the first thing is I owe you folks an apology: with the new day job and holidays and a half-dozen other ordinary-life crises, I’ve just not gotten columns done. I’m sorry.
The most important thing I think I’ve learned in the last year has been just how complicated the whole issue of body weight and glucose regulation can be. Here’s just a selection of diets that have had reports of dramatic weight loss and health effects:
This week’s big diet and nutrition news has been the news that the FDA has proposed removing the “generally recognized as safe” label from trans-fats. Now, if you’re like me, the first question you might want to ask is “what’s a trans-fat?”
A fat is composed of long carbon-hydrogen chains called fatty acids. A saturated fat has one hydrogen for every possible bond to a carbon; an unsaturated fat has some places where the possible hydrogen bond is replaced by a double-bond between carbon atoms. The terms trans- and its opposite cis- mean “on opposite sides” and “on the same side” respectively, and a trans-fat includes fatty acids that have those carbon-carbon bonds on opposite sides. The effect is that you can have two fats with the same chemical formula, but different geometric structures, like in these pictures cribbed from Wikipedia.
Eleadic acid, a trans-fatty acid.
Oleic acid, a cis-fatty acid.
In general, the more hydrogenated, or saturated, a fat is, the higher its melting point. Butter, lard, and beef tallow all have lots of saturated fats, so they’re more waxy and solid at room temperatures; most vegetable oils are much less saturated, and so are liquid at room temperature. But around 1900, the French chemist Paul Sabatier discovered that hydrogen could be combined with carbon dioxide through the use of a nickel catalyst, producing methane or methanol; a German chemist named Wilhelm Normann applied the same process to hydrogenate fatty acids to make fats with higher melting points from vegetable oils. This process is the basis for making both margarine and old-fashioned vegetable shortening like Crisco.
It happens that most — although not all — of the less saturated fats from natural sources are in the cis-configuration, but artificially hydrogenated fats have a much higher concentration of the trans-configuration. So, products like margarine have relatively high amounts of trans-fats compared to natural fats.
Okay, so wake up, the chemistry lesson is over. Those of you who are old enough — most of my readers, I think — still get a little bit of a chill at the phrase “saturated fat”. For most of my lifetime, saturated fats were considered to be unhealthy; advertisements for margarine made a big point about how they were “lower in cholesterol” and therefore more “heart healthy”. In the 80′s, the conventional wisdom, pushed by groups like Ralph Nader’s Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPIRGs), was that fats were bad and saturated fats were really really bad.
So manufacturers reacted by replacing more saturated fats with hydrogenated fats that had lots of trans-fats.
At a recent convening of the “female minds” during a birthday party celebration, I was reminded of the challenges posed by the D.C. dating scene. A fellow friend at this birthday dinner was regaling the group with her predicament: she had to leave the birthday party early for a date.
Normally, this topic is the launching pad for well-wishes, compliments, and giggles. In this case, the poor girl was dreading her impending date. Subsequent conversations with the male in question after agreeing to the date had made her a little wary. He was cocky and pushy–which made her question if he was interested in anything more than a quick hook-up. However, she didn’t want to back out of the date 40 minutes before they were supposed to meet up.
We tried to psyche her up. It’s great to meet new people! A night on the town will be fun!
No go. She was all frowns and pessimism as she slid off her stool and collected her coat and purse.
“Why is dating in D.C. so hard?” she asked as she turned for the door.
We all knew from personal experience what she meant, but none of us had an answer…
Washington D.C. is always a nominee for those lists with titles like “worst city for singles” or “worst city for dating.” It’s not surprising, really. Washington, D.C. is not a normal city. Although the representatives of the nation live and work here, The Capital is in a fantasy land of its own, shielded from the real-world by a thick bubble. It makes sense that this removal from reality in the workplace would also translate to the playground. I do know good people who have met, dated, and married people that they met while living in D.C. However, these people seem to be either part of the lucky minority or are D.C.-dating-warriors who persevered after several harrowing attempts.
Here are three reasons why dating in D.C. is particularly difficult:
People, including a lot of nutritionists and diet doctors, tend to treat people as if they were more or less homogenous all the way through, like a hard boiled egg: some fat on the outside and a metabolism on the inside. So, when they talk about diets and losing weight, they assume that it’s just all stuff going in versus stuff going out of a sort of blob in the middle. This results in the naive picture of weight regulation where the number of kilocalories you eat (measured by burning the food to ash in a calorimeter) goes in, and it’s either burned up or deposited in the egg white as new fat.
Real organisms aren’t that way, of course. When you eat something, there are long chains of complicated processes going on to transform the chicken meat and carrots and noodles in your chicken soup into amino acids, and fatty acids, and various ions in solutions in the bloodstream; a whole bunch (a whole bunch) of free riders are eating the food too, converting it to other forms that they use to breed their own descendants; some of the result of that turns into nutrients in our blood stream, some of it turns into bacteria, and a whole lot of that eventually turns into something I’m far too delicate to mention.
Once it’s in the bloodstream, there are lots of other complicated processes going on. I talked about them a little bit two weeks ago, but it’s worth remembering that sugars cause the body to release insulin, insulin causes adipocytes (fat cells) to store triglycerides, plump adipocytes release leptin, leptin reduces appetite, which means less food and less sugar, which makes the adipocytes release triglycerides, and so on. There is a complicated feedback going on there, and in a lot of people this feedback results in essentially perfect control of body fat and weight.
We tend to forget this, as talk about the “epidemic of obesity” gets around, but the fact that roughly one-third of adults are obese means that roughly two-thirds of adults are not obese. Most of those not-obese people eat the same general diet, live similar lifestyles, go to the same movies, watch TV and drink sugary sodas, and yet they stay more or less skinny.
Today is 19 October. Yeah, I know, you can see it at the top of the article, but that’s an important date, because it’s now exactly a year since I determined I had to take some actions about my weight and glucose. (I came out about it in my first 13 Weeks post, “A Fat Nerd Does Diet,” on 28 October last year.)
The results overall have been good. I had several different issues when I started.
I weighed 301.5 on the 19th.
My A1c was 7.5. Although I struggled with admitting it, that’s real no-kidding diabetes mellitus. For me it appears to be type 2, (T2DM) characterized by lowered sensitivity to insulin. That was on a pretty much maximum dose of metformin, 2500 mg/day; if I were depending on drug treatment alone, I was heading for insulin.
I had a long-term problem with gastric reflux (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); I was on omeprazole every day and had been since a severe esophageal spasm and put me into the ER with chest pain two years before.
My total lipids were reasonable on 20mg/day of simvastatin but my high-density lipoproteins (HDL) were low, and my low-density (LDL) were high.
I also had a long-term problem with depression, although I hadn’t had a really acute episode in some years.
Now, a year later:
I’m down nearly 40 pounds; my recent low was 264.
My A1c is been between 5.9 and 6.4. The T2DM appears to be under control. I’m down to 1000 mg/day of metformin, and did a long stretch at 500 mg/day.
My lipids are enough better that I’m off statins, at least for this 13 week period.
The IBS no longer troubles me — I can’t say it’s completely resolved because, frankly, how would I know? But I haven’t had a painful episode in certainly almost a year. The GERD is also considerably better, and I’m slowly weaning myself off the omeprazole.
I think I can say the depression is significantly better. I haven’t had an acute episode this year, but then I hadn’t had a really acute episode in some years. But I had also been chronically dysthymic, which in combination with acute depression is called “double depression.” I really feel like that’s significantly better. I plan to write more about depression in the coming months; there are interesting suggestions that there may be some physiology that connects depression, obesity, and T2DM.
What did I do?
I’ve adopted a consistently low-carb, high-fat diet. I’ve played around with variants, and right now I’m around 50g carbs a day, with most of the carbs coming from fruits and yoghurt.
I’ve nearly completely eliminated wheat. Occasionally eating wheat seems to result in immediate exacerbation of the GERD and possibly of the IBS.
I’ve experimented with high-intensity interval training and high-intensity strength training, although I’ve had trouble making that a consistent practice.
I recently tried a broad-spectrum probiotic, which seems to have had very good effects.
I’ve largely structured these changes into a series of 13 week long experiments, which appears to be a sufficiently powerful model that a number of other people have adopted it for their own changes.
What have I learned in this year? It’s complicated.
Seriously, it’s a little weird to be writing my 13 Weeks column and not have much of anything to complain about.
I just got back from taking a friend out for her birthday. We ate at Jax’s new seafood restaurant in Glendale (Colorado, “Godless Glendale”, the little enclave inside Denver with slightly more liberal rules for bars and restaurants. And stripper joints but we didn’t go to a stripper joint.) I had a frutte de mare salad, octopus and squid and clams and mussels in a vinaigrette, then an iceberg wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese, and a piece of monkfish sautéd with duck fat on a bed of a little bit of risotto with wild mushrooms and sautéd spinach and some nice chicharrones as a garnish.
Tasted great, and dinner only cost as much as a week’s groceries. But you’ve got to splurge every so often, and as a high-fat low-carb meal it was pretty much exemplary. I seriously do recommend the restaurant, although they seem to have a little bit of organizational trouble due to the weather getting cold enough they had to close their outdoor seating. But it is mid-October in Colorado, you have to figure it would get a little chilly. (In fact the first ski resorts are about to open.)
I took my blood sugar just now, about an hour after dinner, and it’s 91. Morning blood sugar has been good too. My weight has bounced up a little this week, but “bounced up” from 264 means it’s more like my lows from a couple weeks ago.
And I feel good. That last 5 pounds seems to have made as much, or more, difference as the preceding 30. I feel somehow skinny. I’ve had people — like a barber I hadn’t seen in a while — comment on how much weight I’d lost.
My mood is better. People who have depression will tell you, it’s not just a bad mood or feeling sad — it’s more like all that and a mild case of flu, body aches and all, along with a foggy, thick-headed feeling. And, well, I’m not feeling that.
Of course, the question is “why?” And if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that one or two or three weeks is too little to judge. But there are some things I’ve been doing.
As I wrote last week, I started using probiotics, along with fruit juice, whole fruit, and yogurt, on a vague intuition based on some reports that probiotics might improve my blood sugar, and somewhat better intuition that it might improve some other, er, passing problems.
So I’m just finishing my second jar of the 5-day probiotics (which lasts me about 7 days) and the results are that:
I’m down to 264, which is now a couple of standard deviations below where I was stuck for so long (and getting close to 40 pounds off my starting weight);
my morning fasting blood sugar has ranged from 95 to 117 with the average about 105, which is also a couple standard deviations down from what it had been.
Several people have also emailed me at email@example.com or commented on that last piece to tell me their experiences, and they’ve seen similar (or greater) improvements in blood sugar and comparable weight loss.
So, with n equal to about 5, there’s some success to report, and lots more questions to ask.
“I once heard a man say that the creation of the refrigerator was one of the worst inventions for our health.”
At first glance that statement seems preposterous, and at face value it is. According to Jordan Rubin, the essence of the man’s lamentation was not the actual refrigerator, rather the loss of fermentation as a preservative and all the health benefits that we once derived from it.
As more people are seeking new and healthy lifestyles, the lost art of fermentation is making a comeback.
There is a new trendy drink that is actually centuries old, it’s called Kombucha. Kombucha starts out as little more than a sweet tea that would make any southerner smile. Then, with the help of a pale colored disk a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” otherwise known as a SCOBY, your sweet tea transforms into a probiotic-laden powerhouse.
Health food stores carry shelves of the stuff in all flavors. One of my favorite coffeehouses actually sells Kombucha on tap and it costs about the same as a Latte.
In this week’s mining of The Maker’s Diet, the author explains that every long-lived culture in the world consumed fermented vegetables, dairy and meat. Fermentation reaches back six thousand years into Chinese culture, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia buried sweet potatoes, and ancient Roman manuscripts describe lacto-fermented sauerkraut.
“Fermentation is especially effective in releasing important nutritional compounds through “pre-digestion” that would otherwise pass through the human digestive system, undigested and unused.”
According to the author, our modern large scale vinegar-based fermentation techniques won’t do the trick. It’s the lactic acid fermentation, driven by the beneficial microorganisms that we need to break down foods into usable compounds and inhibit “putrefying” bacterial growth.
It’s common knowledge that prolonged heat, processing and pasteurization kills all enzymes. What isn’t so well known is that, according to Dr. Howell, author of Enzyme Nutritionwe are all born with a finite number of enzymes. That’s why it’s important to consume as many outside enzymes as possible from raw food sources.
My PJ Lifestyle colleague Charlie Martin explored the need for a healthy gut in his popular 13 Weeks post “I Got Bugs“:
We’ve also used probiotics over the last year and the benefits are numerous. So much so, I really don’t want to be without it.
The problem is that probiotics are expensive — especially a good quality brand. My philosophy on dieting and health is that it must be a sustainable change that can last throughout a lifetime. Call me cheap or rebellious, but I just hate being dependent on any product, no matter how good it is.
A healthy gut is vitally important. So over the last couple of months I’ve been experimenting with Kombucha for a more natural intake of “good” bacteria, yeast and probiotics.
Making it at home is ridiculously easy and inexpensive. Here’s how I did it.
Long-time readers of this column may notice that list is not unlike what I’ve been troubled with since I started it a year ago.
While I’m not quite ready to look for a skinny donor for a fecal transplant (eewwwww), I’d still been rather frustrated with the continuing weight plateau and difficulty lowering my blood sugar, even after raising the metformin dose.
I was also suffering from what I’d have to say was the worst constipation I’d ever had. (I know, TMI, but this is significant.) Let’s just say that for the first time since I swallowed a big wad of chewing gum when I was 4, I learned to appreciate “Fleet” as a brand name.
So I was walking through one of the local sprouthead stores. (Alfalfa’s, which through a complicated series of maneuvers was taken over by Wild Oats, which was acquired by Whole Foods, which had to spin off some stores, which were then re-acquired by the original owners of Alfalfas and renamed Alfalfa’s. Boulder is the Peyton Place of hipster grocery stores.)
My doc had already talked to me about probiotics for my digestion issues, and on her recommendation I’d gotten Arbonne Essentials Digestion Plus, but hadn’t started with it yet.
So there I was in Alfalfa’s, and I decided to look at the probiotics there.
There are a lot of probiotics there. Hell, there’s a whole refrigerator case full of probiotics. They have more varieties of probiotics than most grocery stores have kinds of yogurt. It’s a little intimidating, plus (damned cataracts) I can’t really read the fine print, so I find something by the heuristic of “if it has more kinds of bugs, it must be better,” and buy it. It’s called Garden of Life Raw Probiotics 5-Day Max Care and it says it has 400 Billion something and 34 live strains. It says something about taking it with juice, so I buy some 400ml mixed orange and mango juice bottles, plus a cranberry juice and an apple juice. It also says take it with yogurt, so I buy some greek yogurt, full-fat (which is harder to find than you might imagine) and live cultures, and I buy some apples.
Yeah, I know, where’s the low glycemic load thing? Bear with me.
Saturday, September 14th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin
I have a confession to make. I’m not proud of it, but I felt like you should know.
I put beans in a pot of chili yesterday.
Here’s my chili recipe, which is the one and only true authentic chili recipe (just like everyone else’s).
2 lbs meat (stew beef, ground beef, beef, elk, moose, elk, venison, bear, elk, jackrabbit, or even God help us lamb or mutton. Jackalope is excellent, but be careful, those things are vicious. Save pork, javelina, and your obnoxious neighbor kid for green chili.)
2 chopped onions. Big ones, why mess with a medium onion?
How much garlic you got? Throw it in, smashed or chopped. 6-7 cloves at least.
1 Tsp lard
Now, there’s a place where I go slightly astray because I can’t find good lard. Real lard is quite soft; most store lard is somewhat hydrogenated, which makes it more solid and stable, but hydrogenated fats include a lot of trans-fats, which seem to be associated with health problems. I’m not ambitious enough to buy and render pork scraps, and I don’t know of anywhere to get leaf lard, so I use olive oil or canola oil.
Soften the onions and garlic in the lard in a heavy pot or a dutch oven. Add the meat, and let it brown a bit. If you let the onions brown, it adds some interesting flavors but it gets too sweet for my taste. Now add:
One package Fernandez Brothers Prepared Chili Powder.
Yes, I could make my own, but why? Fernandez Brothers’, from my home town of Alamosa Colorado, is the Platonic Ideal of all chili powders. They’ll mail order. (719) 589-6043. They’ve got pretty much anything else you need to cook Mexican food too.
1 Tsp (heavy) Mexican Oregano
Stir them up, coating everything with the Red Food Of The Gods. Add:
1 6 oz can tomato paste
and lots of water. Doesn’t hurt to put a bottle of beer in the chili as well. Or in the cook.
Stir until reasonably smooth and well-blended, and then simmer low until everything is nicely combined and the meat is tender — anything from a half hour for ground beef to 3 days for the jackalope. Stir it fairly often if on the stove, as it gets thick and can tend to stick. Or put it in the oven at 225°F for a couple hours.