Sunday, September 25, 2011

Food Reward: My Thoughts and Experiences

The latest debate in nutrition is food reward vs. low carb. The argument goes something like this: low carb works in practice, but Gary Taubes et al have the science of it wrong. A cause of obesity is getting a reward from eating certain foods, and overeating them. At least, that's how I understand it. And I find it puzzling.

Do people hit their mid-30s and suddenly start finding food more rewarding? That's when most people start putting on weight. 

How is it that the French and Swiss, whose diets are well known for their wonderful taste, are thinner than Midwestern Americans, whose food is as bland as the Kansas prairie? And if food reward isn't about palatability, how do you know it's rewarding--because the subjects ate more of it? If they ate more of it because it's rewarding, then the argument is a tautology. Maybe I don't understand this part.

It seems that most of the "high-reward foods" are the ones that spike blood sugar--even in people without a metabolic problem. Falling blood sugar two hours later can make you hungry, tired or both. I see this all the time, even in young, thin people. Another thing: if you want more high-reward food like cookies or chips, all you have to do is grab another handful or put 75 cents in a vending machine. If you want another helping of so-called lower reward food, you'll probably have to spend some time and effort making it or more than 75 cents buying it. Eating real food and whacking out the junk carbs prevents mindless snacking. It also provides more nutrients--remember the part in Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes about obesity being a disease of malnutrition?

When I do find that something tastes good and eat past the point of being full, I usually have a few more bites. (Far more often, I get full and put away leftovers.) Since being on a low-carb diet, even when I'm hungry, I can usually put off eating for a few hours without discomfort. But back when I ate a high-carb diet, I was ravenous every few hours. 

Finally, a tasty diet is easier to stick to. I've had enough canned tuna, cottage cheese and boneless, skinless chicken breasts--foods I ate when I was putting on weight--to last me the rest of my life. And if I started packing away the potatoes and pasta again, no matter how bland, I'm pretty sure I'd pack on a few pounds as well.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why You Can't Cure a Sugar Problem with Starch

The Low-Methamphetamine Lifestyle

From Breaking Bad, a TV show about two men who cook meth:

Jesse: "I've been thinking lately that I'd lay off of [the meth] for awhile, 'cause lately it's been making me paranoid, so, for, like, healthwise I'd just lay off." I guess we all have to start somewhere on our quest for a healthy lifestyle.

Curing your Sugar Problem with Sugar?

If you've been trying to solve a sugar problem by eating starch, "complex carbohydrates," or "healthy whole grains" and failing, it isn't your fault. Did the doctors who recommend this sleep through high school chemistry and get their MDs from a correspondence school in the Bahamas? Watch these two videos and you'll know more about carbohydrates than they do.

In this video (sorry, embedding has been disabled) what the teacher is talking about is that starches (or complex carbohydrates) are long chains of sugars.  Or as Dana Carpender puts it, complex carbohydrates are sugar molecules holding hands. "Saccharide" is another word for carbohydrate, and anything that ends in "ose" (e.g., glucose, lactose, sucrose) is a sugar. 

Next, Drs. Mary Dan and Michael Eades talk about starchy diets being about the same as sugary diets. Skip to 1:48 for the sugar/starch portion of the interview to find out why.

With the above in mind, see if you can spot what's wrong with the Sugar Busters! food pyramid and the pediatrician's recommendations. (Click picture for larger image.)

Just to be clear, Sugar Busters! is a program to "cut sugar to trim fat," not a pro-sugar organization.

Next, we have an article by a pediatrician called "The Relationship between Sugar and Behavior in Children."

An interesting article appears in the February 1995 edition of the Journal of Pediatrics. In contrast with other research teams, William Tamborlane, M.D., et al, of Yale University report a more pronounced response to a glucose load in children than in adults. It is commonly acknowledged that as blood glucose levels fall, there is a compensatory release of adrenaline. When the blood glucose level falls below normal, the resulting situation is called hypoglycemia. Signs and symptoms that accompany this include shakiness, sweating, and altered thinking and behavior. Tamborlane and his colleagues demonstrated that this adrenaline release occurs at higher glucose levels in children than it does in adults. In children it occurs at a blood sugar level that would not be considered hypoglycemic. The peak of this adrenaline surge comes about four hours after eating. The authors reason that the problem is not sugar, per se, but highly refined sugars and carbohydrates, which enter the bloodstream quickly and produce more rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels.

In other words, the kids were fed a sugary meal, their blood sugar spiked, and then dropped like a rock. Then they got an adrenaline rush. The solution? A bit like curing a whiskey addiction with beer:

Giving your child a breakfast which contains fiber (oatmeal, shredded wheat, berries, bananas, whole-grain pancakes, etc.) instead of loads of refined sugar should keep adrenaline levels more constant and make the school day a more wondrous and productive experience. Packing her/his lunch box with delicious fiber-containing treats (whole-grain breads, peaches, grapes, a myriad of other fresh fruits, etc.) may turn afternoons at home into a delight.
Yes, oatmeal, shredded wheat, bananas, pancakes, bread, peaches, grapes and other fruits contain some fiber, but they're mostly starch and sugar and they can spike your blood sugar--in some cases, as much as refined sugar does. Would that these doctors had as much common sense as Jesse, the flunky-butt meth cooker: if something is bad for you, then you need to, you know, lay off it, for, like, your health.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Mystery, A Warning, and a Solution

If this were a short story, it would be full of foreshadowing. But like a good mystery, it's hard to connect the dots until the end. If you can't, don't worry--I'll tie it together at the end.

  • I follow a mostly lacto-paleo diet and live pretty cleanly. But I've had a sinus infection for a month, and it's survived one and a half rounds of antibiotics. 
  • I normally eat liver once a week, but haven't had the stomach for it lately. (Even when I'm well, I'm not a liver lover.)
  • A few months ago, I started buying those big, dark chocolate bars--the 70% cocoa ones--and eating one per weekend. (I know what I said last night about hating sweets. It seems to be fruity sweets that I hate; maybe they remind me of medicine.)
  • I started dreading my breakfast smoothie of butter, hot water, pumpkin pie spice and vitamins, even though I like the taste. I sometimes skipped it on the weekend. The vitamins included large doses of zinc and magnesium, a middling dose of potassium, and some GNC Hair, Skin & Nail vitamins. 
  • A few weeks ago, I started watching the video "Mello's Chocolate Party" about 10 times a day. (No link--the naughty bits aren't suitable for a family web site.) I even ordered a CD with the song "Chocolate (Choco Choco)."
  • The other night, I ate all the nuts I'd had around the house for months. Yesterday I raided the cashew jar at work.

Patterns: Large doses of zinc and magnesium. Cravings for the chocolate and nuts, aversions to fruity sugar and the vitamin drink. (Butter and spices still appealed to me, though.) No big change regarding liver, except that I didn't eat it as much. And a persistent infection. Get it? Neither did I. So I went to Dr. Michael Eades's Protein Power blog, searched for "infection" and got my answer, which I should have done a month ago.

Dr. Eades read about a young doctor, Lisa Pastel, whose patient developed a severe, seemingly intractable infection.

In going over the patient’s list of supplements [the patient's] doctor noted that along with his multivitamin that patient was taking extra vitamin A and zinc. In fact, he had been taking 10 times the recommended amount of vitamin A and 15 times the recommended amount of zinc. His doctor read up on these supplements and learned that excess zinc could cause all the problems that her patient was suffering, not because of the excess zinc itself, but because of the copper deficiency the excess zinc causes.

The doctor suspended the vitamin regimen and within days, the patient's white blood cell count was normal. (As you know, white blood cells fight infections.)

Dr. Eades cautions low-carbers:

We modern humans typically eat the muscle meats of animals. We eat steak and ham and chicken and lamb chops and pork chops....All the organ meats, especially liver, are rich sources of copper. Other foods our ancient ancestors would have eaten–seeds, nuts, and shellfish–are also rich sources. If you eat a lot of these as part of your ‘modern’ low-carb diet, you probably get plenty of copper. If you stick mainly with the muscle meats and low-carb fruits and veggies, you’ll be getting a lot of zinc, but may be walking the low-copper tightrope.

What to do?

One bright spot is that dark chocolate and cocoa are rich sources of copper, so if you can make your chocolate-coated nuts and/or your hot chocolate low-carb, you’re in business.

Chocolate-coated nuts for my health: hooray! I also ordered some sweetbreads (thymus glands, high in copper and vitamin C) from my butcher and had homemade hot cocoa for dinner. (1/2 c water, 1/2 c cream, heated in a pan, add 1T cocoa and 1t Splenda, stir and serve.) It tasted good on this cold, rainy night. I think I'll have it tomorrow for breakfast, too. Sans vitamins, except for D. I've been taking a large dose of zinc for a long time, seemingly without ill effect. Perhaps this means I'm no longer deficient in zinc.

"Low Carb Diets and Copper" by Michael Eades, MD. November 13, 2006.

"The Healing Problem" by Lisa Sanders, MD. New York Times. November 12, 2006.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Infantilization of our Taste Buds

There's a lot I like about my employer, but its contributions to America's declining health ought to be scuttled. An email arrived at work calling for dessert and holiday treat recipes for the company magazine's December issue. I replied that I'd like to submit instructions for an appetizer tray sans sugary treats. "There are folks who need to limit their sugar intake, as well as those of us who'd rather avoid the stomach aches, blood sugar crashes and holiday weight gain." The marketing director liked the idea and wants to get approval for it. Today, a recipe for pate; tomorrow, how to properly roast a turkey. Someday, mince meat pie might involve meat again.

Why not submit a recipe for a low-carb dessert instead of pushing for savory appetizers? Maybe my sinus infection has changed my taste for the better. Between the sweet Umcka tablets for congestion, the elderberry syrup, and honey for my throat, I'd almost rather put up with my symptoms than gag down one more spoonful of sugar. And while I know there are mature, responsible people who love sweets (my father for one), for whatever reason, starchy, sugary treats suddenly strike me as food for slumber parties and Halloween, not dinner for a grown-up lady. I don't want to think about sweets long enough to copy a  recipe for one.

Besides, is there anything holiday-like about sweets and treats anymore? At work, there are two bowls of candy at the front desk. There's a cupboard full of pretzels, crackers, chips and sweets, popsicles in the freezer, a soda fountain, birthday cake every month, enough bananas to feed a barn full of bonobos and apples enough for a herd of appaloosas. And I hear that American schools feed their students junk food all day long. Is there any hour of any day anymore that isn't time for sweets? A tray of pate, sashimi, olives, dip, deviled eggs, vegetables and artisanal cheeses would be a treat of real food and a break from a steady diet of flour and sugar.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Bug is Back

I was *this close* to being over my sinus infection. I was well enough to spend an afternoon at a fair and go out dancing. The next day, though, when the antibiotics were out of my system, my energy left and my cough came back.

Again: good diet does not conquer all; we can't heal ourselves against every bug. Consider how many Native Americans died of diseases when Europeans reached North America. Consider how much faster bacteria and viruses mutate than we do. This is a clever bug I have: it's held on through a course of antibiotics, yet it isn't strong enough to kill its host. Why me? Long ago, a scan showed I have only seven sinuses: they have to do the work of eight. And I've had some unhappiness at work. All my sinus infections have come when I was especially stressed at work or school.

What to do? My nurse suggested giving myself a chance to heal using nasal washes. I already tried that. As much as I believe a good diet helps make you healthy, my observation was that good diet and clean living weren't enough in this case. Ignoring this would have been more Mary Baker Eddy than Mary Dan Eades--more faith healing than science. It's back to the antibiotics, and I'm about 90% well. My stomach, though, normally as tough as cast iron, didn't feel good this time. Probiotics helped. If this round of antibiotics doesn't help, I'll be back for more--unless I get a bright idea.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Knockout! Right in the Bread Basket

Lennox Lewis is gonna win that fight. Nobody's gonna get in the ring with Mike Tyson unless they know they can knock him out. -Bud Miller, my father

It was the most hyped boxing match of 2002: Mike Tyson, the boxer who once bit off an opponent's ear in the ring, finagled a boxing license in Tennessee and took on Lennox Lewis. My father called that fight: Mr. Lewis looked serene when he knocked out Mr. Tyson in the eighth round. Mr. Lewis knew both himself and his opponent, something that hardly anyone interested in the fight seemed to consider.

And so it's been lately with contenders who spout the healthy whole grains/eat less move more/low fat dogma on the internet in forums that allow responses. The priests of nutrition don't seem to anticipate a bunch of Lennox Lewises, who know every move of their game, climbing into the ring and pounding them.

Apparently, the nutritional priests don't talk to each other or pay attention to each other's work, either. Awhile back, there was the Hope Warshaw rout, to name one instance of dumb "expert" advice drawing a virtual angry and intellectually muscular mob. That should have been a clue to the people at the blog Six Servings by the Grain Foods Foundation. They were quietly publishing junk science and marketing fluff when they decided to take on cardiologist William Davis, MD, author of Wheat Belly:  Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find your Path Back to Health. The post called a wheat-free diet a "fad" and said that cutting out "one specific food" is "dangerous." They called Dietary Guidelines for Americans the "gold standard of scientifically sound nutrition advice."

At this writing, there are 94 responses to the post, citing the post's logical fallicies, Dr. Davis's success in helping patients, facts about wheat's lack of nutrients, clinical studies showing wheat's disease-causing properties, wheat's ability to send blood sugar over the moon, the common-sense observation that you can get nutrients from better foods, and people's own success on a wheat-free diet. Somebody mentioned the fact that there's no scientific basis for the USDA guidelines; others brought up anthropological evidence that humans were healthier before they started eating grains. Round one goes to Dr. Davis and his fellow travelers.

Gluttons for punishment, the Six Servings people made a follow-up post, mostly appealing to various authorities and experts. They didn't accept Dr. Davis's challenge to a public debate. Do I need to mention they got shellacked by the wheat-free commenters? Even though the Six Servings people don't seem convinced of anything but wheat's goodness (what did you expect?) I give round two to Davis et al. The victory here isn't in getting industry flacks to admit they're wrong, but in thinking clearly for ourselves and winning back our health.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A High Principle Diet

If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

I spent a pleasant afternoon last Labor Day weekend at a fair canoodling with someone I'd just met. It ended awkwardly when I wouldn't go to his house, and he didn't offer any other suggestions. I don't go home with people I've just met, period, no exceptions. It's a first principle of mine.

This, and a post by Dr. Richard Feinman about portion control really meaning self control made me think about sticking to a healthy diet.  "Most people know not to eat too much," Dr. Feinman says in the comments. "The question is how?" Tactics like eating a small portion and waiting to see if you're hungry for more, filling up on good food before going to a party, and taking healthy snacks with you all help. So does getting moral support from other low-carbers. But there will be times when you're hungry, surrounded by carbs, and without snacks or a nagging spouse. Or worse, you'll have a spouse who encourages you to indulge, as my father does with my diabetic mother. These are times when your own fat, protein and principles have to sustain you.

A first principle you can have is that you won't eat things that make you feel lousy. Why did you start a low-carb diet in the first place? I did so to get rid of acid reflux. Eventually, I found out that wheat makes me congested, too much carb makes my joints hurt and makes me gain weight, and certain carbs make me so bloated that I look pregnant. Like many diabetics, my mother feels nervous and shaky when her blood sugar is high. Thinking about what will happen to us in 20 minutes makes it easier for us to avoid eating too many carbs.

Another first principle you can have is to weigh nutritional advice on the merits of whether it makes sense from an evolutionary or ancestral standpoint or on the basis of your own experience. Much nutritional "wisdom" is nothing more than platitudes that have been repeated so many times that most don't question them. Why do we need copious amounts of fruits and vegetables, when just a few hundred years ago these were available only seasonally in most places? Why do we need grains when we got along without them for millions of years? Does a leafy green salad really fill you up? What I like about this is that you don't need a formal scientific education or background in statistics to do this--it's just using some common sense. It keeps you from being buffeted by waves of dumb advice.

Letting hope triumph over experience should violate first principles. Can you stop at one brownie? I can't, so I don't start with the first one--or I buy one, put it in my bag and leave. Has eating light--only to leave room for dessert or a midnight snack--ever worked out for you? I end up eating bad food if I go dancing without  dinner first, so I have a low-carb snack first even if I'm not hungry.

We live in such ridiculous times that "first principles" sounds like something from another century. Note that some of this violates the idea of moderation. It especially violates the idea of flexibility, for the better. The tendency to put flexibility over first principles is why the guy from the weekend bet that I'd cave in if he held out. It's why some of my friends have ended up with men who never got around to paying their bills or filing for a divorce; these relationships would have been non-starters had first principles been first. And it's what the purveyors of poor advice and worse food are counting on to keep us eating junk.

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Sinus Infection has Lost its Bite

A wooden stake won't kill a vampire. Flamethrower, would kill a vampire. Or we can lose our head. I mean, literally. Other than that we heal. -Mick St. John from the TV show Moonlight

How would you feel if an illness that had previously left you cold, tired and slogging through the day for months, could suddenly be 95% beaten in 17 days? Like you'd gained superpowers?

I came down with a sinus infection August 16, and aside from a little coughing, I'm well again. Let me tell you about other sinus infections I've had. I spent a week in the hospital with one when I was nine. I spent a whole summer dragging myself around classes and work in a thick sweater in my early 20s in a nasty bout with staphylococcus aureus. Another sinus infection struck again in 2001, a few years after the septoplasty surgery I had was supposed to have prevented them.

What's different about this one? Vampire Mick St. John (see quote above) told a blind friend from his past that he'd stayed well through diet (he skipped the part about being a vampire). I credit the same thing for my good health and ability to heal: no wheat, low-carb, and vitamin and mineral supplements. Gluten-free grainy goodies are an occasional indulgence; my diet is mostly meat, eggs, and fibrous vegetables, a little cream, cheese and sour cream, and a little chocolate. (I leave dietary blood as the exclusive property of vampires and the Masai.) Wheat in particular gives me nasal congestion--the thick, sticky kind that won't move. With this sinus infection, I was coughing but not congested: the mucus was running, not sitting around making a bog for bacteria to thrive. With no congestion, I was rarely in pain; I took only two doses of aspirin. I also took a five-day course of azithromycin (an antibiotic), Umcka Cold Care, and black elderberry syrup, which helped my throat.

Again and again on my low-carb, high-fat, high nutrient diet, I've healed: GERD gone, allergies alleviated, a cold gone in three days, a neck injury that righted itself, and shoulder pain shrugged off. Most of these things had persisted for years pre-diet change. A good diet may not make you live forever, but it may help you heal like a vampire.