Monday, December 30, 2013

Want Pretty Shoes with Less Pain? Try a High Fat Diet

I've never been a shoe horse. Being wide, my feet don't fit into most shoes of the right length. I went barefoot whenever I could as a kid and even now I prefer tennis shoes and flat sandals to ballet flats and stilettos. But tall boots are handy this time of year. I have a pair of Italian leather boots that are a little too long for me and rubbed my heels--until recently. Now, they're as comfortable as socks. Since I hardly ever wore them, it's hard to say when the change happened. But I've also noticed that I can brush hot grease off my skin and forget about it where it would have left a burn before. Several years ago, a grease splatter from a pan of Moroccan chicken left a trail of blisters up my left arm.

I don't have unassailable evidence that a low carb, high fat diet made my skin more resilient, but people on such a diet often find the same thing. Maybe it's better absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A and D and higher intake of zinc that make a difference. It can take awhile. If I remember correctly, it was about a year before I could go outside for long without sunscreen. 

Shopping for shoes today reminded me of this. Granted, I was selective about the shoes I tried on, but everything I could get my hoof into felt great. No, I didn't try on any granola girl hiking sandals.

Comfy as a tennis shoe. Image from
These don't come in a wide size; they were a quarter-inch too long. Nevertheless, nothing hurt, even with nothing on my heel. 

Speaking of shoes, Stacy London of the TV show What Not to Wear, is (or at least was, as of July this year) embarking on the paleo diet. It sounds like it was a difficult transition for her (as it is for just about everyone); maybe she can start a new show called What Not to Eat.

ETA: I wore these shoes to the office. The sole is fine, but the uppers make these some of the most painful shoes I've ever worn.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pale? Tired? Craving Chocolate? Maybe You're Iron Deficient

Here's a tale of two holidays. Thanksgiving day, I could barely get out of my chair. Answering three phone calls was a major annoyance and baking a crustless pumpkin pie was a slog. But over Christmas week, I've put plastic weatherstripping over windows at my parents' house, gone to a movie, done a lot of shopping (after watching a lot of What Not to Wear), learned to use my new Mac, recycled my old computer and printer, and taken two trunk loads of stuff to Goodwill after cleaning out my basement. I haven't cleaned out my basement in almost 18 years. I'm working out twice a week again. And my pants are falling off me.

What made the difference? Before Thanksgiving, I'd gotten out of the habit of taking an iron supplement. I was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia a few years ago when I went to see a doctor for an unrelated problem. (He noticed I was pale and ordered a test.) Even with good diet habits since then (no medications, no grain, no dairy except butter, no coffee or tea within an hour of taking an iron pill, red meat every day), I need the supplement.

I resumed taking iron supplements just before Thanksgiving, but it took a week or two to feel up to speed. It also decreased my appetite. When you're undernourished, it can make you over hungry. Having been on vacation for the past week (away from the chocolate supply at work) has also helped my waistline.

* * * * * 

Even though I'm feeling more energetic, I've decided not to get chickens next spring. Some weeks ago, it was around nine degrees here (thirteen below celsius if you're outside the US) and getting out of bed early on such a morning to tend chickens is the last thing I want to do. Besides, I'm gone almost eleven hours a day at work. If a chicken got injured in the fence or by being attacked, it could suffer a long time before I could help--on a cold winter night in the dark. What I might do is put up some feeders for the birds that already live here. My yard has cover, seeds, birdbaths, and a chickadee box, and since a neighbor who used to put out bird feed recently died, this seems like a good fit.

My father is feeling better, too. A few weeks ago, he got fed up with the rehab center, called a cab and went home. He started declining until my mother fixed his thyroid medication (and they wonder why married men live longer). Dad was happy with the new furniture I bought him, but not so much about the four trash bags of junk food I threw out. He has some dementia, but he's generally reasonable and talked to his bank today about someone opening a credit card in his name last month. (The bank keeps asking what the credit card number was. How are we supposed to know when we never had it?)

The bank's question about the card number didn't make any sense, but my love of chocolate does: it's full of iron. One bar (which I can easily eat in one day) has 12 mg of iron. My supplement has 18. Here I felt like I was using, as FredT would put it. I thought it was stress. I thought it just tasted good. It's all that, but it must be the iron, too.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Regretting Holiday Hedonism? Various Guides to Low Carb

Hope you're having a Merry Christmas! It's the fourth anniversary of this blog and it's been almost that long since I started a low-carb diet and never looked back.

That's not to say I never have a moment of weakness. Too much chocolate last week brought back the GI problems that I set out to solve four years ago. I can't eat chocolate bars in moderation, so I don't keep them around anymore. For others, it's Christmas cookies, stuffing, bread, pie, and other carbs that make this the most fattening time of the year.

How to get back on track--or start a LC diet? Someone asked me this just yesterday. Since different approaches work for different people, here are a few sources for various types of people.

Just tell me what to eat.
Here's a quick guide to low-carb from Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt.

I want to know how this actually works.
Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, who have treated thousands of patients with low-carb diets, explain diet, hormones and hunger.

I need some basic recipes. 
Broil a hamburger three to four minutes on each side 4" from the flame. Serve with a salad or steamed non-starchy vegetables (fresh or frozen) with some butter. Eat a can of sardines with mayonnaise and some celery with almond butter. Make some deviled eggs and serve with cole slaw (mix mayo, vinegar and a little stevia or Splenda to taste for dressing). Buy a roast chicken and a carton of a vegetable dish from the deli.

I need some more recipes. 
Dana Carpender and Dr. William Davis have recipe books you can download from Amazon or check out from the library. (Click the links for recipes online.) You can also de-carb some of your favorite recipes by substituting a clove or two of garlic for onion, cauliflower for potatoes, Splenda or stevia for sugar, almond flour for breadcrumbs (or use egg as a thickener, as in meatloaf) and just skip the rice, noodles and other starchy ingredients. If you're baking, though, you'll need different recipes to replace wheat or rice flour. Dr. Davis's books are a great resource for baked good recipes.

How do I eat out?
Get a bunless burger and a salad. Go to a restaurant and ask for a meat and vegetable dish. Buy a sub sandwich with no bun. Go to a diner and have bacon and eggs, no toast or hash browns. Have a plain coffee (cream or half-and-half is OK) at a coffee shop. Order some hot wings. Stay away from fish and chips places and pizza and pasta joints and don't even look at a bakery.

I'm having some problems on my LC diet: I'm tired, foggy, constipated, or craving carbs.
You probably have the Atkins flu: a two-week adaptation period to a LC diet. More fat, more water, and more salt will probably help you; a magnesium and potassium supplement could help, too, especially for constipation. Low-carb is NOT compatible with low-fat or low-salt. Don't make yourself exercise until this adaptation period is over.

You might have also started eating things you don't tolerate well. If you have stomach aches, lay off the vegetables and check out the FODMAPS diet. (I have FODMAPS problems myself and didn't find it that hard to figure out what bothered me. Experts make it out to be harder than it is.) See if anything has carrageenan, a thickener that's used to induce inflammation in laboratory animals. It's used in cream, cottage cheese, salad dressing, almond milk, ice cream, and other products.

You might be going through wheat withdrawal. Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist and one of the biggest proponents of a wheat-free diet, says a minority of his patients get terrible cravings for wheat when they stop eating it.

In any event, stay the course. As Dr. Michael Eades puts it,

If you’re three days into your stop-smoking program, and you listen to your body, you’re screwed.  If you’re in drug rehab, and you listen to your body, you’re screwed.  If you’re trying to give up booze, and you listen to your body, you’re screwed.  And if you’re a week into your low-carb diet, and you listen to your body, you’re screwed. 

I miss my carbs!
We all have to do things that aren't fun: paying bills, getting up early for work, washing the dishes. If you had a child who didn't want to pick up his things or wanted to take up smoking, would you indulge him? Saying to yourself, "I need a cookie!" (or "I deserve a frappucino!") is just as indulgent--and not worthy of a grownup. Take heart, though. Many of us who've been on low-carb diets for awhile find sweets and starches no more appealing than the box they come in.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cereal Killers: The Movie. Watch it Here!

Yekra Player
Yekra is a revolutionary new distribution network for feature films.
Cereal Killers

* * * * *

The film follows Donal – a lean, fit, seemingly healthy 41 year old man – on a quest to hack his genes and drop dead healthy by avoiding the heart disease and diabetes that has afflicted his family.
Donal’s father Kevin, an Irish gaelic football star from the 1960s, won the first of 2 All Ireland Championships with the Down Senior Football Team in 1960 before the biggest crowd (94,000) ever seen at an Irish sporting event.

When Kevin suffered a heart attack later in life, family and friends were shocked. How does a lean, fit and seemingly healthy man – who has sailed through cardiac stress tests – suddenly fall victim to heart disease?
Can a controversial diet consisting of 70% fat provide the answers?
Losing weight, improving lipids and eliminating inflammation on a high-fat, low-carb diet? Yes--even if you have the genes for inflammation and heart disease, as Donal O'Neill does. In the movie, he gets the labs and the DNA tests to prove that his diet of meat, eggs, berries, cheese, butter, macadamia nuts and green vegetables is the ideal diet for him. It's like Fathead, but with better scenery and less politics. I'm sharing it with my best friend, whose father takes Lipitor and went back to eating turkey bacon.

From the film's producers:

The film follows Donal – a lean, fit, seemingly healthy 41 year old man – on a quest to hack his genes and drop dead healthy by avoiding the heart disease and diabetes that has afflicted his family. Donal’s father Kevin, an Irish gaelic football star from the 1960s, won the first of 2 All Ireland Championships with the Down Senior Football Team in 1960 before the biggest crowd (94,000) ever seen at an Irish sporting event.

When Kevin suffered a heart attack later in life, family and friends were shocked. How does a lean, fit and seemingly healthy man – who has sailed through cardiac stress tests – suddenly fall victim to heart disease? Can a controversial diet consisting of 70% fat provide the answers?

Featuring interviews with Dr. John Briffa and Prof. Tim Noakes.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Low-Fat: the Microsoft of Diets (2)

For some reason, my settings were changed and my last post didn't show up in feeds. Click here to read about how low-fat diets are like Microsoft products.

Low-Fat: the Microsoft of Diets

You know the feeling: there's a system out there that's wildly popular, almost everybody uses it (except for some maverick non-fiction-loving nerds), and its proponents are at the top of the heap in their field. And yet the system isn't working for you. There's bloating. The help from on high isn't helpful. It takes so long to accomplish anything.

It isn't you, it's the operating system. Low-fat diets are like Microsoft products: they're everywhere, and they work well enough for some people, but for others, they're an epic fail. Over the past few days, to work around an issue that Microsoft has known about for years and years, I've had to manually resize dozens of images every time I opened a document. And I've spent the entire evening tonight figuring out why my computer was at a standstill. (It turned out the automatic updates feature in good ol' Microsoft has been running up my CPU usage to 100%, bloating it like five servings of fruits and vegetables and a bowl full of whole grains. Disabling it has brought it down to 15% and made my computer functional again. Unfortunately, it has to be enabled to even get manual updates.)

How is this like low-fat diets? If your body doesn't run well on glucose for whatever reason (GI problems as I have, wonky blood sugar, dental problems, a weight problem, hormonal issues, mental function issues, etc.), it can take everything you have just to get through the day if you're trying to do low-fat. Most people without those problems won't understand.

Like the theories behind low-fat diets (the cholesterol hypothesis, the diet-heart hypothesis, the sugar-bad-fiber-good hypothesis, the ever-changing Mediterranean diet with its French paradox, and so on), Microsoft is a moving target. Office 2010 took the tools people had used for 20 years and scattered them. Some of the tools are gone. (The quick access toolbar is fine until you have to work on someone else's computer.) Third-party vendors, like makers of extra-mild toothpaste and stomach remedies and diet pills and moisturizers, are there with software you can download to work around Microsoft's problems so you can get something done.

There has to be a better way. The paleo equivalent of modern-day software might be DOS, which I actually found easier to work with. Maybe my next computer will be a MAC; maybe I'll get a Google tablet. I'm not paying $90 for Windows 7. Microsoft may think it's untouchable because its products are entrenched. But not so long ago, people switched from manual systems to computers. They can switch from one system to another system as well--and in the interest of saving time, money and frustration, they may do so. Microsoft is being protected by the network effect (it's widely used and companies want to be compatible with one another); low-fat diets by authority (government regulations that some people are subject to and scare tactics from authority figures). But no moat is unassailable.

Monday, December 2, 2013

HOW Many Teaspoons of Sugar in a Can of Coke?

Dr. Briffa recently blogged that Coca-Cola misrepresented how many teaspoons of sugar are in a can of Coke. A Coca-Cola executive said there were six; Dr. Briffa calculates that there are 8.66 teaspoons: 35 grams of sugar divided by 4.5 grams per teaspoon equals 8.66 teaspoons.

But by my calculations, 35/4.5 = 7.78. I posted a comment to Dr. Briffa's blog, but it wasn't published and is no longer awaiting moderation.

All of us can't be right.

ETA: Dr. Briffa published my comment.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Weakness, Diabetes, Dementia: A Common Link?

My father will be coming home from the hospital any day. He went last week because he was so weak that he could barely move after he fell. He's doing better, but he'll need round-the-clock supervision. Dad has the impression that he's stronger than he is. I was with him during a visit with a psychiatrist, who saw him because he said he was going to call a taxi and leave. Dad said he thought he was at a bank. He drew a good clock, but put the wrong time on it. He did well on other questions, such as the date, the president, and his personal history, but last night, he kept saying that my mother was at the hospital. She wasn't, and has no way of getting there on her own.

When Dad comes home, he'll find some new furniture, some technology to help him, and someone besides Mom to make sure he doesn't hurt himself. What he won't find is a bunch of junk food. I took home four trash bags full of chips, crackers, cookies, pretzels, potato mix, gravy mix, cake mix, cornbread mix, macaroni and cheese mix, oatmeal, sugar and grapes. I suspected my mother has been indulging in this carbage more than she's admitted when she said, "You didn't leave us anything to eat!" I did remove most of the food from the kitchen, if you don't count oils, spices, and anything else you wouldn't just pop in your mouth.

Maybe this is a major reason Dad doesn't feel good.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't decide for my parents what to eat. But my father is losing his mind, There is evidence that Alzheimer's disease (a type of dementia) can be helped with ketones; the disease is commonly called, even in scientific literature, "type 3 diabetes." Dad wasn't diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, but getting rid of the junk food may help him and it won't hurt him. It will help my mother, too, since she says that having junk food around is like living in a crack house. 

Even the doctor said Dad should be on a low carb diet because of his diabetes. That will be helpful when I ask neighbors to please quit bringing my parents high-carb food. I'm going to bring them coconut oil in the hope that it will help my father. The video below is about Mary Newport, a physician who helped her husband's Alzheimer's with coconut oil based on a study she found that used medium-chain triglycerides, which are often derived from coconut oil.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Low-Carb Fraud: A Review

T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, has written a new book (more of a report at 57 pages) called The Low-Carb Fraud. Let's start with what Dr. Campbell gets right:

  • There are different kinds of carbohydrates.
  • Most carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in the intestine.
  • Refined carbohydrates are bad. 
  • Low carb diets are fun! (I swear I'm not making this up)
  • Calories don't matter unless you're going to extremes.
  • People lose weight on low carbohydrate diets.
  • People lower their insulin levels on low carbohydrate diets.

That's about it. Mostly, he slanders low-carb proponents and he lies, lies again, and lies some more. He lies when he doesn't need to lie. To wit:

  •  "Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution...had not been especially successful in the marketplace." According to Dr. Atkins' obituary in The New York Times, "its various editions sold more than 15 million copies, making it one of the best selling books ever." 
  • Dr. Campbell also repeats the rumor that Dr. Atkins was obese when he died. According to, Dr. Atkins was taken to the hospital for a head injury.  The snopes article adds that hospital records, as turned over to USA Today by his widow, show the six-foot tall doctor weighed 195 pounds upon admission. His widow says that due to organ failure and fluid retention (and glucose drip? -ed.) he weighed 258 pounds at his death.
  • "We're making no significant inroads in reducing rates of...heart disease..." Heart disease deaths have been going down for years. Why lie about this? If anything, you could attribute this to declining fat in our collective diet. (Or less smoking, or better care for heart attack victims.)

At the end, Dr. Campbell discusses studies that are beyond most people medically ignorant enough to believe the rest of the book. (I didn't read the studies to ascertain their quality or whether Dr. Campbell's interpretation of them was correct. I'll leave that to study wonks.) But before that, he attacks Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat.

Gary Taubes, says Dr. Campbell, is a journalist, not a scientist, doesn't understand studies and doesn't know what a carbohydrate is. He makes Taubes sound like a lifestyle writer at a suburban newpaper. Dr. Campbell doesn't mention that Taubes has a BS in applied physics from Harvard, earned an MS in engineering at Stanford and an MS in journalism at Columbia University, and was a reporter for Discover magazine. He concedes that Taubes is correct in saying that calories don't have much to do with weight (unless you go to extremes) and that most carbohydrate breaks down into glucose and causes a surge of insulin. Taubes understands all this and more without knowing what a carbohydrate is. But Dr. Campbell asserts that it's only refined carbohydrates that are bad, that Taubes is deliberately confusing refined sugar with all foods that contain carbohydrate. Apparently, your intestine knows whether a molecule of glucose came from a kumquat or a Klondike Bar.

Maybe Dr. Campbell should work on himself before casting stones. He all but admits he's not a scientist:

When a reductionist finding contradicts the big picture, it doesn't make sense to tear down that big picture. Rather we look for exceptions, nuances, and deeper understandings--ways of reconciling an outlier data point with the demonstrated reality. (Kindle location 407)

What real scientists reconcile in the face of data is their picture of reality. Real scientists should also know basic logic--for instance, if A=B, then B=A. "...[A] diet truly low in fat (e.g., 10 percent of calories) is by definition a diet high in good quality whole (not processed) plant-based foods and low in animal based products," Campbell says. Likewise, unless your whole-food, plant-based diet includes a lot of coconuts, olives or avocados (no oils extracted from them), which he doesn't recommend, your diet will be low in in fat. Whole, plant-based diet equals "truly" low fat. Yet on the next page, he chides Gary Taubes for focusing his arguments on low fat diets, albeit "incorrectly labeled" ones, instead of plant v. animal based diets. Dr. Campbell also dismisses several studies comparing low-fat and low-carb diets because, among other things, the low-fat diets were too high in fat. Is he trying to be difficult? Why yes, he is, maybe because Good Calories, Bad Calories isn't about vegan diets.

Dr. Campbell fires away at other authors of low-carb books and diets, including Michael and Mary Dan Eades, Loren Cordain, and Eric Westman, saying they have "no experience in scientific research, and a vast fortune generated by the sales of their shakes, powders, extracts, oils, bars, and even chocolates." The popularity of low-carb diets is mostly marketing.

Was Google down the day Dr. Campbell wrote this book? Some of these authors are professional researchers at respected universities, and the Drs. Eades have a qualification Dr. Campbell doesn't: treating patients--thousands of them. Dr. Cordain of Colorado State University has written over 100 peer-reviewed articles and abstracts. (Dr. Cordain discusses vegetarian diets in The Paleo Answer without using smear tactics, saying he respects people's dietary choices.)  Dr. Westman is a faculty member of the Duke Clinical Research Training Program. The Low-Carb Fraud doesn't mention Dr. Stephen Phinney, a physician-scientist who has written more than 70 peer reviewed papers and book chapters, or Dr. Jeff Volek, a professor and author who leads a research team at the University of Connecticut and co-wrote, with Dr. Phinney, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, and, with Drs. Westman and Phinney, The New Atkins for a New You, a book that ought to have popped up on Dr. Campbell's radar. Dr. Richard Feinman, another proponent not mentioned, is a researcher and professor of cell biology at the State University of New York. (Granted, he hasn't written any diet books, just a bunch of peer-reviewed studies and papers.) Physician-researcher Dr. Richard K. Bernstein, a type 1 diabetic since 1946 (how many people can say that?), low carb proponent, and one of the foremost experts on diabetes, doesn't get a mention, either.

Has Dr. Campbell actually read anything that Drs. Eades, Cordain, Phinney, Volek, Westman or Bernstein have written? He keeps calling low-carb diets "high-protein diets." Pretty much any diet is higher in protein than his whole food plant based diet, but most modern low-carb diets call for high fat and moderate protein. He also says low-carb diets eliminate most vegetables, but even Atkins induction calls for two small salads a day. It's just starchy vegetables like potatoes that are off the menu. Almost anything at a salad bar is encouraged. In fact, during a year-long study of 100 people on a low-carb diet (aka My Big Fat Diet), the grocery store on the little island where the participants lived had a run on cauliflower when someone shared a recipe for fried "rice."

Has he heard that low-carb diets are for more than just weight loss? "Charitably, we could say that low-carb advocates are using weight loss as a Trojan Horse to get people to improve their diets and overall health--although there's little evidence for this generous interpretation." Maybe Dr. Campbell hasn't heard that the sweet, starchy foods he recommends can lead to tooth decay or that some of us cured our GERD by giving them up.  Diabetes control is possibly the second most common reason people adopt a low-carb diet; some epileptics are managing their condition with very low carb diets; and there's research in using the diet to fight cancer and prevent Alzheimer's disease. Dr. William Davis has been reducing his patients' coronary plaque and treating other health problems including diabetes with a low-carb, wheat free diet, among other therapies. Many of us with wonky blood sugar and GI problems like FODMAPS simply cannot eat a high-carb diet and feel well.

Dr. Campbell ought to dust off his endocrinology books, too--or read a new one, since it's been a spell since he went to medical school. "Whenever we encounter diversity in nature, we should be slow to dismiss it as unnecessary or unfortunate. A broad spectrum of carbohydrate digestibility and function is very important: it allows the body to adapt to different conditions, ranging from the need for a quick burst of energy to the facilitation of digestion and absorption of other nutrients in the gut." From an evolutionary standpoint, adapting to different conditions is  important.  However, the need for carbohydrate in the human diet is zero. Ever heard of an essential carbohydrate? There aren't any for humans. Ever heard of phytic acid? It's a substance "occurring in plants, especially grains, capable of forming insoluble complexes with calcium, zinc, iron and other nutrients and other nutrients and interfering with their absorption by the body." And as most vegans know, you need supplements such as B12 on a vegan diet because of the lack or absence of certain nutrients in plant foods.

The Low-Carb Fraud includes an appendix on paleo diets. Here, unlike at the beginning of the book, he says that Dr. Loren Cordain is a researcher. The way Dr. Campbell describes paleo diets and the study of paleoanthropology sounds about right to me, as far as it goes, but he does what he accuses Gary Taubes of doing: cherry picking details and weaving a story out of them.

"Cordain, in fact, presented a very similar estimate for the amount of meat in prehistoric humans' diets--3 to 5 percent--in a 2004 symposium in Denver, Colorado," says Dr. Campbell. If Cordain said that, he'd have been referring to very ancient human ancestors such as australopithecus, who lived four million years ago and, were they alive today, would be around four feet tall, covered in hair and, yes, eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and tubers at a preserve. Given their tiny brain size, they wouldn't have a job and an apartment. The book mentions none of this. No, Dr. Campbell compares humans to chimpanzees, a species we split off from six million years ago, rather than Homo erectus, a long, lean, fairly big-brained, meat-eating, tool making ancestor from roughly 150,000 to two million years ago, or even neanderthals, whose genes some of us carry.

There's also no mention of the expensive tissue hypothesis, the idea that human ancestors needed a steady source of rich nutrients (like fat and protein) to build a big brain, an organ that sucks up an inordinate amount of energy. Nor is there any mention of stone tools, butcher marks on animal bones, isotope analysis, the hypothesis that early (and later) human ancestors could have scavenged animal carcasses instead of hunting, humans' decreasing gut size, or--hello--the fact that the need for carbohydrate in the human diet is zero. There's no mention of Dr. Richard Leakey or his colleagues Pat Shipman, Alan Walker, Richard Wrangham, or Brian Fagan, all paleoanthropologists whose view, based on the evidence, is that meat was an important part of the human diet. These scientists have written a gazillion books and papers, none of them promoting any diet, shakes, powders, extracts, oils, bars, and even chocolates.

There's much that, if we're being charitable, Dr. Campbell hasn't read. He ought to do so.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Cavities, but if that's not Working for you...

"You might want to read The China Study."

Good lord, there's someone still recommending that book after it was debunked by an English major and picked apart by Michael Eades and Chris Masterjohn? Recommended by someone who works in a dentist's office, no less--where they're supposed to tell you to avoid carbage? Yet the dental hygienist did today. Maybe she was worried about business slowing down. Maybe she hadn't heard that at least two of its main critics got a mouthful of cavities on vegan or vegetarian diets.

I didn't have any cavities, sensitive gums or other issues that a little more flossing wouldn't fix, and told her that I quit getting cavities after I started a low-carb diet. I added that since I'm from a family full of diabetes, that's another reason to be on a low-carb diet. "Well, if your diet isn't working for you, read The China Study."

I wasn't about to argue with a vegan holding a pick in my mouth. Even in a less asymmetrical setting, it would have been like arguing about religion.

Before I went low-carb, there was a diet that had stopped working for me: Body for Life, which includes quite a bit of  "good" carbs. I got almost all the cavities in my mouth on that diet--along with other problems usually put down to middle age. When I ditched the fruit, grains, milk and potatoes and went face down in the fat, I got rid of twenty pounds of fat, acid reflux, tooth decay, aches and pains, dry skin, three-hour naps, sinus congestion, and most of my TMJ pain. If I ever want to have all those problems back, I'll give dear Dr. Campbell's book a read.

The Woman Cave

Need a dining room set? I'm selling mine since all it does is collect dust and papers. Not having many of those health-giving, life-lengthening, cortisol-dampening relationships, I haven't had company in two years. I replaced the old furniture with a papasan chair, which I've enjoyed more than I the casual acquaintances I went to some trouble to acquire, who came and sat at the table once or twice.

Of course, I've read about studies showing close relationships making us happier and live longer, and studies showing that introverts are happier when they act extroverted. But what about real life? Most relationships are friendships of convenience. Acquaintances who aren't classmates, coworkers or neighbors take time and effort to meet, and I've come by very few who were worth the effort. As for playing a gadfly, what would a study find if it had people calling in sick and getting drunk instead of going to work--that they were happier? Probably, but like someone with a hangover, introverts in the real world say they end up exhausted when they put on an act for too long. Even my meetup group--which I enjoy and don't put on an act for--leaves me feeling as if I'm about to go down the first hill of a roller coaster. Sometimes you need to put on a game face, and with the right group of people it's fun, but when people say, apropos of nothing, "Smile!" or "Are you okay?" as if there's something wrong with you, it's offensive. Sorry I'm not meeting your standards, I'll try harder next time. Please give me another chance to act like a TV personality.

It makes more sense for me to stay home, sit in my new papasan chair and pet my dog than to go out to meet random people. I was surprised how much I enjoyed buying furniture, along with some cups, pajamas and Christmas cards (I'm not a complete recluse). Maybe since I replaced some things I'd had for several years and gotten tired of, it was a special treat. Do that too often, and it would probably end up as well as continually calling in sick and getting drunk instead of going to work.

I won't be sending Christmas cards to many relatives--people I have nothing in common with, who don't call, don't email, and only invite me over via a third party instead of inviting me themselves. I was in my thirties before I realized I didn't have to go to these get-togethers. I felt like Lierre Kieth when she wrote about dumping her bread and salad in the trash at a vegan dinner and leaving: it's like feeling trapped in a dream, and then remembering you're an adult. I feel none the worse for it, despite courting disaster if you believe the studies. Sure, you can be fine the moment before you walk off a cliff, but is there any cliff there if you're avoiding boring parties and aloof people? The only person I wanted to see was one of my brothers, and he's dead now.

The studies assume that people have a choice between giddy fun with friends and family or holing up in their hovel. In reality, for some of us it's a choice between fake forced fun with people we don't care about or pursuing happiness alone. The latter doesn't bother me, it's the assumption that there's something wrong with it that does.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Institute for Justice Kicks off National Food Freedom Initiative

This just in from the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian law firm:

The Government vs. Your Food
IJ Launches New National Food Freedom Initiative

Arlington, Va.—A new national initiative launched today by the Institute for Justice seeks to make sure the government stays out of some of the most personal decisions people make every day:  What we eat and how we get our food.  This nationwide campaign will bring property rights, economic liberty and free speech challenges to laws that dictate what Americans can grow, raise, eat or even talk about.

Read an Associated Press feature on the National Food Freedom Initiative

To kick off the initiative, IJ is today filing three separate lawsuits challenging Miami Shores, Florida’s ban on front-yard vegetable gardens; Minnesota’s severe restrictions on home bakers, or “cottage food” producers; and Oregon’s ban on the advertisement of raw—or unpasteurized—milk.  Each case demonstrates how real the need for food freedom is in every corner of the country.

Watch a short video on the Miami Shores front-yard vegetable garden ban
Watch a short video on the MN cottage foods restrictions
Watch a short video on the OR raw milk advertising ban

“More and more, the government is demanding a seat at our dining room tables, attempting to dictate what we put on our plates, in our glasses and, ultimately, in our bodies,” said Michael Bindas, an IJ senior attorney who heads up the new initiative.  “The National Food Freedom Initiative will end government’s meddlesome and unconstitutional interference in our food choices so that Americans can once again know true food freedom.”

  • IJ is challenging Miami Shores’ front-yard vegetable garden ban in state court on behalf of Herminie Ricketts and Tom Carroll, a married couple who grew vegetables on their own property for their own consumption for nearly two decades before Miami Shores officials ordered them to tear up the very source of their sustenance or face fines of $50 per day.  Learn more about their case:
  • Minnesota allows food entrepreneurs to make certain inherently safe foods—such as baked goods—in home kitchens, but it:  (1) prohibits their sale anywhere other than farmers’ markets and community events; and (2) limits revenues to $5,000 per year.  Violating these restrictions can lead to fines of up to $7,500 or up to 90 days in jail.  IJ is challenging these restrictions under the Minnesota Constitution on behalf of cottage food entrepreneurs Jane Astramecki and Mara Heck.  Learn more about their case at:
  • In Oregon, it is legal for small farmers to sell raw milk, but they are flatly forbidden from advertising it.  If they do advertise their milk, they face a fine of $6,250 and civil penalties as high as $10,000—plus one year in jail.  IJ is challenging this ban under the First Amendment on behalf of farmer Christine Anderson of Cast Iron Farm.  Learn more about Christine’s case at:

These three cases raise important constitutional questions that show how meddlesome government has become in our food choices:  Can government really prohibit you from peacefully and productively using your own property to feed your family?  Can government really restrict how many cakes a baker sells and where she sells them?  Can government really ban speech about a legal product like raw milk?  The answer is no.

IJ’s President and General Counsel, Chip Mellor, said, “For 22 years, IJ has been on the forefront of protecting Americans’ property rights, economic liberty and freedom of speech.  With our National Food Freedom Initiative, IJ will now bring that experience to bear in the most fundamental area—food—so that Americans can be truly free to produce, market, procure and consume the foods of their choice.”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to Write a Newspaper Nutrition Article

This article from the Miami Herald, "Popular Paleo Diet Still Has its Skeptics" by Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley, is a textbook example of how to write a nutrition article.

  • Choose a hot topic. In this case, paleo diets.
  • Describe the topic and how it got started. This article cites popular media and books written no less than 12 years ago; one book is from 1975. 
  • Find some examples of people who've tried the regimen. One man interviewed lost 200 pounds (yes, two hundred) and got rid of his acid reflux; a bariatric surgeon lost 40 pounds.
  • Somewhere in the article, mention that they are not alone. 
  • Create conflict. A couple of registered dieticians interviewed trot out the gospel of food groups, healthy whole grains, and warnings that more research is needed.
  • Recommend people talk to their doctor.

What NOT to do when writing a newspaper article on nutrition:
  • Proofread. "Just about everybody, including daytime talk show hosts and fitness bloggers, are touting..."
  • Look up recent sources of information. Dr. Cordain, whose book from 2001 is mentioned, wrote The Paleo Answer two years ago. In particular, he's changed his position on dietary fat. The book is one of over a dozen on the paleo diet that have come out in the past three years.
  • Fact check. Where to begin? Lean meat is not part of the Atkins Diet. The paleo diet is based on a great deal of scientific research in both medicine and anthropology, not just anecdotes. Grains are nutrient poor compared to paleo food.
  • Turn on your BS detector. Mark Bluh, according to the article, lost 200 pounds. He started out at 330, and he's six feet four. So he's now 130 pounds and six feet four inches? (A normal weight for a man that height would be 200 pounds. That was the height and weight of my ex-jerk, who was lean and toned.) The same diet that humans have lived on for 2.5 million years, a diet that corrects weight, allergies, acid reflux and avoids foods some people don't tolerate well, will make you ill? Consult a medical professional about diet, even though most of them look like they're 50 pounds overweight?
 Finally, send the article to the local newspaper and wait for a check.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

AHA Recommends Statins for the Poor, People Near Airports, and Everyone in the Southeastern US

Not really, but why not? The American Heart Association now recommends cholesterol-lowering drugs for people who don't necessarily have low cholesterol, just risk factors for heart disease. (1) What is a risk factor? It's something that is statistically associated with heart disease. Everyone say it with me: association is not the same as causation. Take a look at the map below:

National maps.
Map from the Center for Disease Control.

Obviously, living in the southeastern US (or Appalachia) is a risk factor for heart disease. As my father says about most car accidents happening within a few miles of home, you'd better move away from there. But the whole population there can't move out west, and I don't want them bringing their sweet tea and hushpuppies and green and orange jello here. The obvious solution is to prescribe statins by ZIP code, right? That goes for people who live near airports, too.(2)

The AHA could get together with the IRS and doctors could prescribe statins by AGI (adjusted gross income). That's a joke, but something like that has actually been suggested by a professor at the University of California at Davis.

"Doctors could, for instance, moderately increase the dosage of cholesterol-lowering drugs to reflect the higher risk imposed by socioeconomic status," said [Peter] Franks, whose research focuses on addressing health-care disparities. "Changes like this would be easy to implement, and the benefits could be significant."(3)

Some things that can cause heart disease (they're not just risk factors) are small dense LDL, thyroid dysfunction, (4) smoking and diabetes(5). Why not work directly on those? An Associated Press article related a telling quote:

"It is practically impossible to find a large group of outside experts in the field [of heart disease] who have no relationships to industry," said Dr. George Mensah of the [National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute].(6) 

Those "relationships" to the pharmaceutical industry are financial: research grants, speaking fees, and swag.(7)

And the relationship between statin use and heart attack? In this study(8), statin use had no relationship to "primary events" (heart attack or cardiac death). Statin use and not dying? Dr. John Briffa recently reviewed a study by the Cleveland Clinic.

In this study, the researchers made this assessment over an 8-year period. Death rates over this time were not statistically lower in those taking statins compared to those who were not.(9)

He adds, ‘there was a trend toward’ are weasel words.

Statins and side effects? Michael Eades, a study wonk, writes,

Multiple studies have shown that taking statins does reduce both the incidence and severity of heart attacks. But these same studies don’t show any increase in longevity for those taking statins (other than the small benefit for men under 65 who have had heart attacks). Why. Statins simply trade one risk for another. Take them and you reduce the risk of a heart attack but increase your risk for cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, and side effects related to the drugs themselves. Many people die each year from statin-induced side effects. Despite what anyone may tell you, statins are not benign drugs.(10)
The push to get more people--80 million adults--sounds a lot like the new guidelines from 2001, when the experts tried to get 36 million Americans on statins.

In 2001, the Expert Panel on Detection, evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults issued perhaps the most influential document in the history of modern American medicine. Written as part of the National Cholesterol Education Program, the updated guidelines incorporated the findings of the most recent clinical trials into concise recommendations designed to assist doctors in reducing their patients' risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD). The recommendations are bold and offer the tantalizing hope that coronary heart disease in all but the very old will become a far less common occurrence. This goal can be reached, according to the guidelines, by increasing the number of Americans taking statin drugs, from 13 million to 36 million....

The excitement generated by these new guidelines was unprecedented. Dr. Claude Lenfant, the director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, under whose auspices the NCEP does its work, told the New York Times that if the new guidelines were followed, coronary heart disease "would no longer be the number one killer [in the United States]."(11)

Peter Wehrwein estimates that as of 2011, around 32 million Americans were taking a statin.(12) And yet heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the US.(13) It didn't work out, but the idea is so bold an tantalizing, and the pharma people are so nice. And since people are getting wise to the fact that cholesterol is a necessary hormone, which your body doesn't make in order to self-destruct, the experts are scurrying away from the idea of lowering it. Besides, they can get so many more people on medication if they decide on lower-risk risk factors.

  1. "Do you need to take statins to lower your cholesterol level?" by Ashley Hayes. November 13, 2013. /13/health/cholesterol-risk/
  2. "People Who Live Near Airports At Increased Risk For Cardiovascular Disease" by Larry Huston. October 8, 2013.
  3. "Lower socioeconomic status linked with heart disease despite improvements in other risk factors." August 26, 2011.
  4. "What tests are MORE important than cholesterol?" by William Davis MD. May 12, 2013.
  5. "Insight into Why A1c Correlates So Strongly with Heart Attack" by Jenny Ruhl. May 28, 2011.
  6. "U.S. doctors urge wider use of cholesterol drugs" by Marilynn Marchione. November 13, 2013.
  7. Overdosed America by John Abramson MD. Harper Collins, 2004.
  8. "Cardiac Outcomes After Screening for Asymptomatic Coronary Artery Disease in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes" by Lawrence H. Young, MD; Frans J. Th. Wackers, MD, PhD; Deborah A. Chyun, MSN, PhD; Janice A. Davey, MSN; Eugene J. Barrett, MD; Raymond Taillefer, MD; Gary V. Heller, MD, PhD; Ami E. Iskandrian, MD; Steven D. Wittlin, MD; Neil Filipchuk, MD; Robert E. Ratner, MD; Silvio E. Inzucchi, MD; for the DIAD Investigator. April 15, 2009. JAMA. 2009;301(15):1547-1555. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.476.
  9. "Doctors can help you get back on your statins, but does this help you?" by John Briffa MD. September 13, 2013.
  10. "Statins: Not for everyone…maybe not for anyone" by Michael Eades, MD. October 31, 2013.
  11. Overdosed America, pages 129-130.
  12.  "Statin use is up, cholesterol levels are down: Are Americans’ hearts benefiting?" by Peter Wehrwein. April 15, 2011.
  13. "Leading Causes of Death." CDC website. 2011.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Need a Prosthetic Hand? Got $10? DIY!

From the Hit and Run blog at

Shirking $30,000 in medical fees for a traditional prosthetic hand, videographer Paul McCarthy built a multi-colored “Robohand” for his son using a friend’s 3-D printer. McCarthy says he spent, “Five, maybe, ten bucks.”

The boy, 12-year-old Leon McCarthy, was born without fingers on his left hand. Once he turned ten, Paul started searching for an inexpensive and functional prosthetic alternative.

What he found changed his son’s life. A YouTube video by Washington-based special effects artist and puppeteer, Ivan Owen, shows the results of the artist's collaborative effort to build a Robohand for a disabled boy in South Africa.

DIY hand. Photo from
 More homemade prosthetics are here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Parents' Doctor Fired Them. Hurray!

December 17, 1999 found me so happy that I was jumping up and down and laughing. I'd just been laid off from my last engineering job, a job I could have done as a high school sophomore, a job so dull I felt a piece of myself dying every day as I sat through seven light changes to get out of the office park. No more. I was free of that miserable job.

This should have been the reaction (in spirit) of my mom when her doctor fired her as a patient last week. She asked her nephew, an M.D. (who also left engineering) if a doctor could do that. Certainly--if you were a doctor, would you want to be forced to treat patients you felt you couldn't help? Call it at-will treatment.

My parents' now-former doctor changed my mother's diabetes medication without giving her any advice to monitor blood sugar levels carefully or adjust her insulin, and my mother ended up with blood sugar levels in the 50s some mornings. My father didn't want to take a certain medication because of potential permanent and embarrassing side effects, there was some miscommunication about pill dosages, neither of my parents were willing to take statins, the doctor's office got a social worker involved at one point (Mom's mother-in-law, returned to life, would have gotten a warmer welcome), and in all fairness to the doctor, my parents missed some appointments. But Mom would wait 15 minutes on hold to reach someone at the office and wait for an hour after the appointment time at the doctor's office to be seen. No more. Everybody is free of this miserable relationship. What's not to like about this breakup?

We looked for another doctor. "I want a man doctor," Mom said. "Or a woman doctor." Flexibility is good. It took a few minutes for Mom and me to find someone new. He's highly-rated, he's a gerontologist, he's nearby and he's on her insurance plan. He's a man or a woman. My parents need someone who understands that people of a certain age are more delicate and need more hand holding.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Think All Doctors are Trustworthy? Read This

Let me start by saying that I think most doctors are decent people who want to help their patients. But sometimes I struggle to fathom the way they think. Dr. Michael Eades says most doctors aren't critical thinkers, so maybe that explains it. (Eades is a former civil engineer. If you can't solve problems, you don't last long in engineering school.)

First, I have to wonder about the common sense (let alone critical thinking) of physicians, who in general can't transform a six-figure income into large nest egg. Yes, physicians have expenses, but so do the rest of us. Why don't they just start an IRA with Vanguard and set up automatic payments? How does this concern you if you're not a doctor? Where there's money, there's motive. Prescribing statins, PPIs and diabetes drugs and recommending ADA and AHA diets sounds a lot easier, and more profitable, than revisiting  endocrinology textbooks, learning to interpret medical studies, and working with patients to improve their lifestyle. ADA and AHA high-carb diets will make diabetics worse and keep them coming back for more appointments, more services and more prescriptions. The same diet will keep GERD patients (I was one) coming back periodically for a new prescription.

Digestive tract issues bring me to my second point. For reasons I can't begin to fathom, two doctors, Robert Wilcox, MD and Okay H. Odocha MD, subjected a suspect to fourteen hours of invasive procedures at a hospital to find drugs. The suspect was stopped for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. The good doctors didn't find any drugs, and the hospital has billed the man $6,000 for raping him. The search warrant wasn't valid for the county where Wilcox and Odocha of the Gila Hospital of Horrors were on duty. (To the medical profession's credit, the first doctor the cops went to refused to do a search, saying it was unethical.) The colonoscopy the man went through carries risks of a "Hole or tear in the wall of the colon that requires surgery to repair, infection needing antibiotic therapy (very rare), and reaction to the medicine you take to relax, causing breathing problems or low blood pressure."

Didn't the doctors think anything beyond an x-ray was excessive? Or that performing medical procedures for non-medical reasons was inappropriate? Didn't they read the warrant, or wonder if fourteen hours of poking someone's rectum against his will was an invitation for a lawsuit?

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity by Carlo M. Cipolla opines that "reasonable people have difficulty in conceiving and understanding unreasonable behaviour....Nobody knows, understands or can possibly explain why that preposterous creature does what he does." All you can do is think for yourself and protect yourself. Or file a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Vitamin D May Not Help a Cold. Maybe Avoiding Sugar Does.

I just found this from the Vitamin D Council:

Also, readers should be aware (if they are not already) that vitamin D does not prevent all viral respiratory infections. As we noted in correspondence to our first influenza paper, rhinoviruses, the most common cause of the common cold, are not seasonal; that is, they are just as common in the summer as in the winter, and they do not have a lipoprotein coat for antimicrobial peptides to destroy....If you are already taking 5,000 IU a day and you get a cold, chances are that more vitamin D will not help much. No one should take large doses for more than a few days and then only if the infection is severe(1)

However, vitamin D levels are inversely associated with upper respiratory tract infections.(2) If you haven't been taking any vitamin D, a moderate dose might help.

Nevertheless, I have (mostly) gotten over my cold faster than some acquaintances, who came down with colds before I did and are still sick. (One coworker sounded like a one-man sick ward. Same kind of cold as mine, too--lots of mucus and a sore throat.)  Maybe it was the fat fast; maybe it's because I don't knock back any orange juice or lozenges. If you drink three cups of orange juice and take four lozenges, that's 100 grams of sugar. Sugar may suppress your immune system (3) and the vitamin C in the orange juice may or may not help a cold.(4) During an illness, your blood glucose level is already higher than normal; adding another hundred grams of sugar a day could push some people's BG to a toxic level. Going from 100 to 140, for instance, isn't a big leap. In diabetics, infection is more likely to occur with high blood sugar; perhaps that applies to the rest of us, too.

Since people generally don't have an appetite when they have a cold, it's a good time to go on a short fat fast or intermittent fast to reduce inflammation in general, anyway. (My fat fast was a whole lot easier than it was last time. I didn't keep track of calories or fat content, but I didn't eat much, and everything was high in fat. The ketostick today showed light ketones.) I can't say whether the fat fast reduced inflammation or not. But in spite of having a lot of mucus, I wasn't congested after Sunday night, so my nasal passages might not have been very inflamed. (I know the Mucinex helped.)

Anecdotally, low-carbers have few colds and get over them faster than their acquaintances. This may be from taking adequate vitamin D, eating a high-nutrient diet and having normal blood sugar levels.

  1. Newsletter: Even More Vitamin D Questions and Answers by John Cannell, MD. April 1, 2010. 
  2. "Association Between Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Level and Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey."Adit A. Ginde, MD, MPH; Jonathan M. Mansbach, MD; Carlos A. Camargo Jr, MD, DrPH Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(4):384-390. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.560. 
  3. "Dear Mark: Sugar as an Immune Suppressant." by Mark Sisson. Mark's Daily Apple, March 29, 2010. 
  4. "Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold" by Harri Hemilä, Elizabeth Chalker and Bob Douglas. The Cochrane Library, July 18, 2007.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Thinking Person's Halloween Movies

As much as I love movies and TV shows like Harry Potter, Moonlight, and The Dresden Files, it's refreshing to watch a suspenseful movie without ghoulies or ghosties or long-legged beasties, where the dead stay dead and the most rational person in the room stays alive. I bring this up since low-carbers tend to be thinkers and rationalists who might enjoy these movies as much as I do. A few of my favorites:

Call Northside 777. Based on a true story about a man wrongly convicted of killing a policeman. For reference, the $5,000 reward that the man's mother earned scrubbing floors is worth almost $50,000 today.

Gaslight. Paula is innocent, too, but her conniving husband wants her to think she's losing her mind. If you've ever heard the term "being gaslighted," this is the movie where it comes from.

Coma. Afraid of doctors or hospitals? This movie should give you a good scare.

Nancy Drew. Something lighter: a smart, nerdy young heroine solves an old mystery.

Zodiac. Another smart, nerdy young person is on the case! Based on the true story of a private citizen's long hunt for a serial killer.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fat Fast for a Cold?

Inflamed: this is how my nasal passages felt yesterday evening after a few days of sinus congestion. Even though I was well enough that day to take part in a round table discussion on where morality comes from (where I mentioned the story of 1808, a Homo erectus who was taken care of for months or weeks through an illness), and walk to the grocery store and back, by bedtime, I felt like I was going to drown in mucus. It was 9:30 a.m. before I could rouse myself from bed to call in sick.

I already have way of dealing with sinus infections: SWAMP (sinuses with a mucus problem). I take 100,000 IU of vitamin D, Mucinex, and salt as needed. But last summer, I had such good results getting rid of gastritis with the fat fast that I've decided to add that. The fat fast (book here) involves eating 1,000 calories per day, with 90% of the calories coming from fat. (My lack of appetite is helping me stick to it.) So far, I've eaten some dark chocolate, a cup of broth with a bit of butter, and a slice of coconut-flax bread with butter. I'm tired, but feeling better.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Catalyst Program on Cholesterol and Saturated Fat: What to Believe?

Regular Janes and Joes who watched the TV program Catalyst: Heart of the Matter on saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease are probably confused now. What is this idea that saturated fat is good for you and that sugar and inflammation may cause heart disease? Everybody knows that saturated fat and cholesterol are bad, right?

Regular Janes and Joes don't need to be doctors or scientists to consider some of the evidence for themselves. Or in this case, the lack of evidence. For forty years, and using hundreds of thousands of people, researchers have been trying to prove that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. The result, according to Dr. Robert Grenfell of the National Heart Foundation of Australia:

When you ask that question of 'Do dietary fats increase heart disease?', you're sort of trying to negate all the other risk factors that, in fact, actually also cause heart disease. So, to imagine creating a study that would prove that conclusively is virtually impossible.

To see this answer for what it is, let's ask a slightly different question: if someone sticks pins in your voodoo doll, will it give you heart disease? The answer would be,

When you ask that question of 'Do voodoo dolls increase heart disease?', you're sort of trying to negate all the other risk factors that, in fact, actually also cause heart disease. So, to imagine creating a study that would prove that conclusively is virtually impossible.
No, you're not trying to negate anything, you're asking a question you can put to a test. If you'd tested the effects of voodoo doll curses for forty years and the results were mixed and inconclusive, why not just say no, play with voodoo dolls all you want if it floats your boat. Australia's leading lipid expert, Associate Professor David Sullivan, is ready with an answer:

I think there are some very telling pieces of evidence which have been used to establish the importance of avoiding voodoo dolls saturated fat. If saturated fat is completely benign, if it's actually beneficial, where's the evidence in support of that? Where's the evidence of an alternative cause? We are particularly keen to get some dietary advice, because otherwise what do we offer people?

How about avoiding those things that Dr. Grenfell says "actually also cause heart disease," like smoking and diabetes. But what about saturated fat? Is it really harmless or beneficial? A little knowledge of metabolism is helpful here. The three macronutrients in the human diet are protein, fat and carbohydrate. You need protein for repairs and maintenance of your body, but you can't burn it (much) for energy. You can run on fat or carbohydrate.

For most of human history, going back 2.5 million years, our ancestors ran mostly on fat. Until 10,000 years ago, the climate was generally colder and drier than it is now, fruit was seasonal, and the technology to gather and cook grains in any meaningful amount was unknown. Only babies drank milk. What did humans and our ancestors eat? According to paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and his colleagues, a substantial part of the human diet was meat. (See this, this and this.) For 2.5 million years, our digestive system, pancreas, teeth and especially our brain have adapted to running on fat. Why would one organ--the heart--be adapted to running on something else?

If you're still not sure about fat vs. carbohydrate, just consider how much fatter and sicker English-speaking populations have gotten since we reduced the fat in our diets from forty years ago. It's not only common observation, but the effect of carbohydrate on metabolism is in medical textbooks. For some people, running on carbohydrate is more like putting gasoline in a diesel engine because we know, from medical textbooks on hormones, that too much carbohydrate can lead to weight gain and diabetes. (See this and this.) Unlike cholesterol levels, diabetes is a well established risk factor for heart disease. It's also common sense (at least it used to be) that diabetics shouldn't eat sugar. All those carbolicious foods that heart organizations put their stamp of approval on (for a fee) quickly break down into glucose, which diabetics already have too much of.

Certain vitamins require dietary fat for good absorption--vitamins A, K2, E and D--and the term "essential fatty acids" is well known. These are good indications that fat is an important part of the human diet. But it's not up to skeptics to prove an idea wrong. The fat-phobes have been trying to prove for forty years that fat is bad for us, and they've failed. They've told us to eat less fat (i.e., more carbohydrate) and our collective health is failing. But they'll never admit their "science" is nothing more than voodoo. It's time to ditch the low-fat diet for common sense, real science, and for the win.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Halloween without Sugar, without Weight Gain

Once again, I'm planning a Halloween without candy, temptation or weight gain. Instead of turning off the lights and ignoring the doorbell, I'll be giving the kids money. I'll put my spare change in a big bowl and throw a few coins into their bags. The kids love it and so do I.

My hairstylist has her own way of avoiding eating leftover candy: she buys the same candy she puts out for her clients, and puts leftovers in the dishes in her salon. She remarked today that if you give kids fruit, they'll probably throw it away. We saw this with changes in school lunches, and even if a kid does like fruit, it can be hard to eat if they wear braces.

Meantime, here are a few videos to get you in the mood for Halloween.

Above: "Gus Fring, Hiding in Plain Sight." Scenes from Breaking Bad. Warning: violent scenes.

Scenes from Death Note. Song: "This is Halloween" by Marilyn Manson.

The Orphanage trailer. Creepiest movie I've ever seen.

Monday, October 21, 2013

How Can You Afford an Accident?

Regular readers know that I'm fully healed from an accident that happened a year ago. After a month with my arm in a sling, nine months in braces, and surgeries to remove and replace a broken tooth, I'm back to normal. And as of this month, so is my emergency fund.

Readers may not know that the accident set me back $7,000. Most of my injuries involved my teeth, and American dental insurance generally doesn't cover braces for adults or dental implants for anyone. Now that the cost of health insurance has dramatically gone up for some people to the point that they can't afford it, having some savings has become even more important. Having savings gives you some security. It'll also save you money over having to get a loan or using credit cards.

I thought about offering some money-saving tips, but those are easy to find, and my tips may not apply to everyone. Besides, it's not useful if you take the savings and spend it on something else. The real question is how to start saving money if you're not inclined to. It's not as hard as it sounds--as long as you're not truly in over your head with your bills, you can do this. Here are some things I've done to make it easy.

You don't need a budget. I've never had a budget because it doesn't make any sense to me. Even in a stable life, there's variation--one month, there might be several events you want to go to and the next month none. You might stay out of the stores in December, then pick up bargains in January. A monthly budget doesn't allow for this. What I use is...

The False Scarcity Method, aka the Pay Yourself First Method. First thing, you sock away some money into savings (or have your bank do it for you automatically), then pay your bills (automatically, if possible), then buy what you need (like gas and groceries), and enjoy whatever's left free of guilt. I also have an account I contribute to monthly for large occasional expenses like car and homeowner's insurance and property tax. This doesn't count as savings because for all intents and purposes, it's already spent. I contribute to my retirement plan as well.

What this gives you is an honest accounting of what you can spend on clothes, entertainment, restaurants, and so on instead of the wishful thinking that can make up a budget. Maybe you wish you could spend more. But consider the things you had to have a few years ago--do they still excite you every day, or do you want something new again? Even if you upgraded your phone or car or house more than a year ago, the excitement has probably worn off by now. It's called hedonic adaptation. In other words, every upgrade becomes the new normal.

Your peers who live more luxuriously than you may be using credit or getting gifts from family. If you're envious, stop and think: are you impressed with their stuff or their presumed accomplishments? Whom do you admire more, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who probably spends most of her money on personal protection) or lottery winners (some of whom end up broke)? Maybe I have a odd sense of humor, but I'm amused on the rare occasion when someone finds out I have more than they thought. (One coworker thought I didn't have a car because I ride the bus.) I get a kick out of finding bargains and repairing things I own and watching others plunk down more money than I ever would on products made by companies I own stock in. But struggling to pay medical bills or even putting off care because you didn't save a few dollars every day is no joke. I've been there.

Maybe you think you deserve a new outfit or a night out (or a vacation or a new car). There's nothing wrong with those if you can afford them, but I prefer to think that I deserve a feeling of security and money in the bank.

Further reading: The Richest Man in Babylon

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Elderly, Disabled Parents? Just Pony Up!

That’s what a social worker and one of my parents’ neighbors say I ought to be doing. “Pony up” is the term the busybody neighbor used--the one who brings high-carb dishes to my diabetic parents. Let’s see how this might work in real life.

My parents live out in the suburbs; I work downtown and live halfway in between. I have a full-time job and a 45-minute commute each way. Certain times of the year (like last week), I work long hours to meet deadlines. I have 138 hours of paid time off I need to take. There’s also my house, yard and dog to take care of.

So every morning, I’ll jump in my car at 6:00, get my parents’ breakfast and make sure they’ve taken all their pills. Oh wait, they’re not up then. I’ll just water their yard.

At 7:00, I’ll leave to go downtown, park, and walk to the office. At 10, I’ll call my parents and ask what pills they’ve taken. If they’re out of something, I’ll get their prescription at lunch, fix their meal, drive back downtown, pay for another parking space, and walk back to the office, half an hour late. After work, I’ll do whatever they need help with (laundry, bathing, cooking, errands, etc.), check their pills, and put them to bed. Then I’ll go to McDonald’s for my first meal of the day. All of this is in addition to taking them to appointments in the middle of the day and jumping out of bed to help my parents with any midnight emergencies.I might as well sell my house and quit my job. I’d never be home except to sleep and shower and I’d miss too much work to stay employed.

Or I could just stick them in a nursing home. That’s the phrase most people use-- “stick them in a nursing home--” as if you can make someone go there, free of charge. Every dollar of my take-home pay wouldn’t cover the cost of one of my parents to live in a nursing home. You know, one of those places where my mother was assaulted and my father was put on statins.

Maybe I exaggerate about what some people expect, but what am I supposed to do about my parents keeping their medical appointments and taking their pills? Or falling during a midnight trip to the bathroom? My mother doles out the pills, and she knows what they’re supposed to take. I don’t. They hire help to mow the lawn, bathe them and run errands. I can take them to some medical appointments, but I need advance notice, and I’ve told my mother she needs to plan ahead now that they depend on others for a ride. I also advise my mother on diet and diabetes medications, which is more than her doctor has done. Following my advice, my mother has healed enough to resume taking metformin, reduce her dosage of insulin, lose weight, and see more normal blood sugars. Where were all the do-gooders all the times my mother was slumped over in a carb coma? (Their busybody neighbor probably brought over the carb-bomb that did it.)

And what about my parents’ wishes? They want to stay in their home as long as they can. My mother was in a nursing home for a long time while she recuperated from back surgery and she doesn’t want to go back and my father feels the same way. They don’t want me to get in trouble at work or spend my life’s savings supporting them. My parents aren’t senile and they’re not hurting anyone. The best course of action I can think of is to help them as I’m able in ways they want to be helped.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Prana on a Plate!

Check out the little red symbol in the ad for ground beef. I didn't see it with any ads for hearthealthywholegrain products. Click to enlarge.

Sprouts sale flyer. Not Photoshopped.
Sticker shock? Ask the butcher for some grass-fed fat to add to your burger.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Carb Creep, Thanksgiving, Dogs, Chickens and Worms

Carb Control Works Again
Something that just happened makes me wonder how often low carb diets "stop working" for people because they don't realize the extent of their carb creep. The scale and the clothes-o-meter told me last week that I was gaining weight. I had to face the idea that I can't eat peanut M&Ms without gaining. weight. Just by cutting out my few handfuls of M&Ms every day, I'm down four pounds. That doesn't sound like much, but on me, it makes the difference between having a flat belly and having the beginning of a pot belly.

What really struck me, though, was how much better I felt. Once again, I can run on six hours' sleep. My head feels clearer and I've started on projects I meant to do months ago. A coworker happened to give up the M&Ms at the same time and noticed how much better she felt, too. As she put it, you know all that sugar has to be bad for you if you feel so much better without it.

Who Says Thanksgiving is a Fat Fest?
My orthodontist is hosting a charity drive to collect Thanksgiving food. I've taken the list of food he's requested and made a table showing fat and carbohydrate content. Note that the list doesn't include desserts or rolls (or gravy, in all fairness), but, with the exception of the mac & cheese and cranberry sauce, things generally regarded as real food.

Uploaded at

A Dog Walks in to a Chicken Swap
I took my dog, Molly, to the chicken swap yesterday to see how she'd act around the birds. She was curious but well-behaved. It was the chickens that got excited--except for the naked neck chickens, who hardly noticed her when she put her face up to their cage. They were ugly as vultures, and I wanted beautiful birds, but I want harmony in my home even more. The owner said that despite their bare necks, they do well in cold weather and they have little combs that don't frostbite. They're not flighty, either.

Turkens, or naked-neck chickens. They keep calm and carry on. When you look like this, you have to have something going for you. Image from Braided Bower Farm.
Molly did get excited by a rooster fleeing its owner. When the rooster saw Molly, he unfurled his wings and ran faster than I ever thought a chicken could go. But Molly didn't strain on the leash, and she got in the car without much trouble. It was the chicken that gave its owner a lot of trouble.

Drama in the Worm Bin
The worms are growing and possibly reproducing. At least, I don't remember any of the worms being that big when I dug the out of the ground--and some of the other worms are tinier than what I remember digging up. A few are no longer with us. The rest favor cucumbers.