Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It Must Be Allergy Season

That's what I gather from my sniffling, sneezing coworkers. says dust and dander levels are high now. Huh.

I suffered so long and so badly with allergies that it's strange to feel fine while others are going around with sinuses packed tighter than a 200-pound woman in size eight pants. Since I started a wheat-free diet, I've been mostly free of allergies. (My hay fever last year might have been brought on by drinking almond milk laced with carrageenan, a thickener and inflammatory. If your sinuses are inflamed, it won't take much mucus to fill them up.) I also don't use any dairy besides butter; it can cause congestion.

To paraphrase an old saying, nothing tastes as good as a clear head feels.

Monday, May 27, 2013

More Evidence we Evolved on a Meat-Rich Diet

I'm getting the sense that human ancestors were serious meat eaters.

I'm reading The Wisdom of the Bones by Alan Walker and Pat Shipman, a contemporaries and colleagues of Richard Leakey. They discuss evidence that humans moved up in the food chain: increased sociality, territorial expansion and decreased population density, and smaller GI tracts.


As Leakey noted in one of his books, if you live on raw vegetation, you can just grab a leaf or a piece of fruit and eat it. You don't need a tribe to do so; in fact, you might want to hide your booty from everyone else so they don't bug you to share it. Hunting big game, on the other hand, requires cooperation. Richard Wrangham says in Catching Fire that some hunter-gatherers have strict rules about women sharing their vegetables only with immediate family members, while men are supposed to share their meat (hunted cooperatively) with the group (Catching Fire, page 163-164). He who eats alone is an orangutan, not a wolf or a lion.

Strong ties between humans go back over a million years to our Homo erectus and Homo egaster ancestors. In Georgia's Caucuses Mountains 1.75 million years ago,

On individual had lost all but one of his teeth long before his death, for layers of bone fill his teeth sockets. He could only have consumed soft food that could be swallowed without chewing, so other members of the band must have looked after him. (Cro-Magnon by Brian Fagan, page 34)

Walker, Leakey and their team unearthed the fossil of a diseased Homo erectus they called 1808. 1808 was an adult female who likely died of hypervitaminosis A from eating the liver of a carnivore--and yet

she must have survived her poisoning for weeks or maybe months while those clots ossified. How else could her blood clots have been so ubiquitous; how else could they have turned to the thick coating of pathological bone that started us on this quest?

The implication stared me in the face: someone else took care of her. Alone, unable to move, delirious, in pain, 1808 wouldn't have lasted two days in the African bush, much less the length of time her skeleton told us she had lived. Someone else brought her water and probably food; unless 1808 lay terribly close to a water source, that meant her helper had some kind of receptacle to carry water in. And someone else protected her from hyenas, lions and jackals on the prowl for a tasty morsel that could not run away. Someone else, I couldn't help thinking, sat with her through long, dark African nights for no good reason except human concern....Her bones are  poignant testimony to the beginnings of sociality, of strong ties among individuals that came to exceed the bonding and friendship we see among baboons or chimps or other nonhuman primates. (The Wisdom of the Bones, page 165, emphasis in original)

Territorial Expansion

Predators necessarily have to be thinner on the ground than their prey. Around 1.8 million years ago, Homo erectus started expanding its territory:

The speed of the territorial expansion of Homo erectus is impressive, especially since geography, climate, fauna and flora would be changing all along the way. It is the sort of expansion that predators undertake fact, prey animals rarely expand their territories so far or so fast without evolving into a new species. (The Wisdom of the Bones, page 240)

Australopitchecus fossils have been found mostly in eastern and southern Africa; Homo erectus, throughout much of Africa and as far as Java and northern Europe.


Walker and Shipman expected to find improved means of slicing up meat. They don't see any real improvement in cutting or hunting tools around that time (1.4 to 1.8 million years ago), but Richard Wrangham (Catching Fire) sees in the fossil record, decreased tooth size and increased brain size from Homo habilis to Homo erectus and other evidence, that our ancestors may have started cooking around two million years ago.

Gut Size

A vegan meme is that humans' longer gut shows that we're natural herbivores. Longer than what? Not longer than our ancestors the Australopithecines like Lucy. Nariokatome boy, an almost-complete Homo erectus skeleton, was long and lean; Lucy was short and pot-bellied:

From left: Turkana Boy (Nariokotome boy, a Homo erectus), Lucy (Australopithecus), Neanderthal. Photo from

Walker and Shipman write,

After studying the anatomy, curvature and declination of [Nariokotome boy's] ribs, we concluded that his rib cage was indistinguishable from that of a modern human in almost every respect. It was entirely unlike the rib cage of a chimpanzee or gorilla (or Lucy). Like us, his thorax was barrel-shaped; like us, he must have had a well-defined waist between his narrow hips and his lowest set of ribs....This meant that he could not have the extensive large intestine that herbivores need in order to process their food; there was no room for it in his torso....It was just a question of gut size, and the boy's guts were small. Only predators can afford to have short gastrointestinal tracts, because animal foods are readily broken down, whereas the cellulose walls of vegetable foods have to be cracked open by cellulose-eating bacteria in the fermentation chambers of the gut before the herbivore can benefit from any nutrients. (The Wisdom of the Bones, p. 245)


It's nice to get out of the echo chamber of paleo and low-carb books and blogs and get independent confirmation that humans evolved on a meat-rich diet. How much meat is hard to say; modern hunter-gatherers live in a different climate than that of the ice ages and some live in isolation. (I'm thinking natural selection for the Kitavans: humans who couldn't live on a high-carb diet were winnowed out.) If people wish to eat a high-carb diet (or any other diet), and enjoy good health on it, that's fine, but I'd like to see an end to the idea of high-carb paleo, which appears to be a myth.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Paleo Vegetarianism?

Much more endnoting is needed! -Cindy Hoffman, one of my high school English teachers

It's a shame that vegan activist Dr. Neal Barnard didn't learn English composition from Mrs. Hoffman: maybe we could see where he got the numerous pro-vegetarian quotes from paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey--enough to fill half a chapter in The Power of Your Plate. Leakey, according to Barnard, says that hunting in modern times isn't very important except as a macho male thing (page 175), that meat accounted for a small part of the diet on the African savannah (page 174), that the "excess of meat" from domesticated livestock is unusual (page 174), and that we wouldn't have had the teeth to deal with tearing flesh and hide (page 171).

These statements are attributed to the same Richard Leakey who said, just two years before The Power of Your Plate came out in 1995,

The expansion [of diet] involved making meat an important food source, not just an occasional items, as it was with earlier hominids and is still for baboons and chimpanzees. Although some anthropologists argue that regular meat eating was a late development in human history, I believe they are wrong. I see evidence for the expansion of the basic omnivorous hominid diet in the fossil record, in the archaeological record, and, incidentally, in theoretical biology.  (Origins Reconsidered, p. 165)
 In 1996, Leakey wrote in The Origin of Humankind,

Only by adding a significant proportion of meat to its diet could early Homo have "afforded" to build a brain beyond australopithecine size. For all these reasons, I suggest that the major adaptation in the evolutionary package of early Homo was significant meat eating...I have no doubt that meat played an important part in our ancestors' daily lives. (page 55)

The change in tooth structure in early Homo indicates meat eating, as does the elaboration of a stone-tool technology. (page 54)

Stone toolmaking would have been an important part of a meat eater's abilities; plant eaters could do without these tools. (page 41)

Every Leakey book I could find on the shelves of the main branch of the Denver Public Library, going back to the 1970s, had similar statements.  So where in the world did Leakey say that humans evolved as mostly vegetarian? Here's the list of citations for Barnard's chapter on "The Evolution of the Human Diet":

The three-page article is about a Homo erectus who appears to have died from eating too much liver from a carnivore. None of the quotes Barnard attributes to Leakey appear in the article. However, the article does say,

There was probably a major change in the diet of early humans, with a large increase in meat eating, at that period and it may have taken some time to learn which parts of carcasses were poisonous. (page 249).

I've sent an email to Dr. Barnard's assistant and a message through Dr. Leakey's web site asking for a source for these quotes. I'll post any response I get.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How I Conquered Acne with Diet

Not many 44-year-olds can say that they still get acne--but I can. I've been on just about every acne treatment out there for pimples and cysts, but my acne came back every time I went off them. None of the over-the-counter products did any good. (Luckily, my skin didn't incur much damage from all this.) But on my new regimen, I'm almost 100% free of acne, and I've also noticed I don't sunburn as easily. I spent much of yesterday wearing shorts, but not sunscreen, in the sun and my legs didn't even tan, despite my fair skin and the high altitude. (My back burned the previous weekend, but didn't peel.) Here's what I'm doing:

No dairy except for butter. Certain dairy spikes insulin beyond what the carb content would suggest; some people are also sensitive to dairy proteins. "Nuclear FoxO1 deficiency [which dairy can cause] has been linked to all major factors of acne pathogenesis," says this study. This article by Loren Cordain presents observational and intervention studies indicating that dairy consumption can lead to acne.Again, though, I haven't found that butter affects me, which makes sense since butter doesn't spike insulin and doesn't have whey or casein. I get dark chocolate made without dairy; Theo is one good brand.

No flavored or instant coffee. Some of those nut-flavored coffees are flavored with chemicals and solvents that tear up my stomach and my skin. I don't know what the story is with instant coffee, but it doesn't work for me, either.

Vitamins. I take a daily multi-vitamin called Hair, Skin & Nails by GNC that has vitamin A and zinc, among other things, and herbs that are supposed to lower blood sugar. Even though I eat a nutrient-rich diet, I have trouble absorbing nutrients, so the vitamins are necessary for me. I also take vitamin K2 and vitamin D3.

Low-carb, high-fat, nutrient-rich diet. Keeping the carbs low helps control the insulin, and dietary fat is necessary for good skin. When I started a LCHF diet a few years ago, I noticed how much smoother and more resilient my skin was overall. I eat 1/4 to 1/2 pound of calf liver and at least two cans of sardines or other fatty fish per week because they're so rich in nutrients. I don't eat grains, beans or fruit. A typical day's menu is two scrambled eggs with mushrooms, black decaf coffee, a can of sardines with some bell peppers, mayonnaise and salt, a bacon hamburger with a green salad, salted sweet potato fries and a diet soda, and a handful of nuts and one-third bar of dark chocolate as a snack. Any frying is done in real lard (not the hydrogenated kind); I make my own mayonnaise with light olive oil.

Exfoliating. I use a gritty exfoliant every other day to get the dead skin cells out of the way and keep them from clogging my pores.

Drying up pimples. I use a dab of Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask on breakouts at night. Just remember to wash it off in the morning!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Richard Leakey: Meat was a "Substantial Component" in Diet 2.5 Million Years Ago
Richard Leakey with skull of Australopithecus (left) and Homo habilis (right). Photo from

Let me start with this: if you're a vegetarian, and enjoy good health on your diet, that's fine with me. Everybody should have a diet that works for them, and if you've found it, I won't discourage you from following it. 

That said, evolution doesn't support human vegetarianism--unless you go back to Australopithecus (see photo). While doing a bit of research, I came across an odd quote attributed to paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey:

"[y]ou can’t tear flesh by hand, you can’t tear hide by hand … We wouldn’t have been able to deal with food source that required those large canines” (although we have teeth that are called “canines,” they bear little resemblance to the canines of carnivores).

It shows up on several vegan and vegetarian websites and articles, but with no source cited. I call it an odd quote because from what I've read in evolutionary anthropology books such as Cro Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans by Brian Fagan, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human by Richard Wrangham and Evolution of the Human Diet by Peter S. Ungar--not just books or web sites promoting any sort of diet--the idea of humans as meat eaters seems well established based on tools, cut marks, human anatomy and carbon isotope analysis of human bones and isn't a matter of controversy. If Leakey took the position that humans have been evolving as vegetarians, he'd be going against the mainstream views, and quite a bit of evidence, in his field. 

Some searches through Google and Amazon finally revealed where this quotation came from: The Power of Your Plate--Eating Well for Better Health--20 Experts Tell you How by Neal D. Barnard, page 171. I don't have the book and can't see the whole page in the Amazon view, but I can repeat some other Leakey quotes from the book.

"If you faced a narrowing of your dietary base, dessication, whatever," Leakey said, "then the only way to maintain yourself would be to change your feeding strategy. One of the options seems to have been to increase the amount of meat."

Leakey goes on to hypothesize that early humans were scavengers of meat; Barnard writes, 

Patterns of scratches on [animal] bones have revealed that stone tools were scraped over the bones after carnivorous teeth had cut into them, suggesting that the bones had been carnivores' prey which were then scraped clean by human scavengers. 
"About two and a half million years ago, you suddenly find evidence of tools: sharp stones, stones that have been broken and have sharp edges," Leakey said. These are invariably associated with bones of animals, suggesting meat in the diet in one form or another. That evidence coincides with the first appearance of an enlarged and modified brain shape."
"Remember that the eating of meat on the African savannah," Leakey said, "although it's in big packages, and you can share it, still accounts for a relatively small part of your diet. Even with the successful scavengers and successful hunters, meat is a rather small part of the diet, except in places like the Arctic..." page 170-174

I can't see where the reference is from in the Amazon preview and I don't know when it's from--Leakey has been writing books since the 1970s. However, I have in front of me Leakey's book Origins Reconsidered, published in 1992, three years before The Power of Your Plate.  

With the origin of the Homo lineage, the trend toward bigger grinding molars became reversed, not to fruit-processing teeth again, but to the teeth of omnivores, animals that may have included meat in their diet. This we see in Homo erectus. (page 54)

Prominent in the mix is the enlarged brain, expanding in an evolutionary punctuation from close to 500 cc in australopithecines to more than 700 cc in early Homo. An almost 50 percent expansion in brain size in creatures of roughly the same body size is a biological signal about as dramatic as can be imagined. As significant to me is the concomitant shift in life history. And, as our earlier sketch of australopithecine and Homo troop life implies, there was also an important change in subsistence. Here the new constituent is meat, not as a rare item in the diet, but for the first time a substantial component. Is it a coincidence that we see stone tools enter the archeological record at about the same time as we judge Homo to have evolved, some 2.5 million or more years ago? I think not. I think we are seeing here the elements of an evolutionary package that in time led to Homo sapiens. (page 163).

Two and a half million years ago--when the stone tools suddenly appeared--was the start of the first of several ice ages, bringing about a change in climate and habitat that would have pushed our ancestors into meat eating and tool making. Leakey continues,

The expansion [of diet] involved making meat an important food source, not just an occasional items, as it was with earlier hominids and is still for baboons and chimpanzees. Although some anthropologists argue that regular meat eating was a late development in human history, I believe they are wrong. I see evidence for the expansion of the basic omnivorous hominid diet in the fossil record, in the archaeological record, and, incidentally, in theoretical biology. Bob Martin points out what all good biologists know: the brain is an expensive item to maintain. It constitutes only 2 percent of the body bulk, yet consumes almost 20 percent of total energy. Bob extends the argument, saying that the brain not only is expensive to maintain, but is expensive to build.
Part of Bob Martin's thesis about a species' ability to afford a large brain is that it must have a stable environment, stable in terms of food supply. Stable and nutritionally rich. The robust australopithecines managed to stabilize their food supply in the new prevailing environment 2.5 million years ago, but their rough plant foods were not rich nutritionally. By broadening the diet to include meat, early early Homo achieved both stability and rich nutrition. Meat represents high concentrations of calories, fat and protein. This dietary shift in Homo drove the change in pattern of tooth development and facial shape. The links in the chain join up yet more closely....Primates have great difficulty in getting at the meat of large, tough-skinned animals. With a sharp stone flake, however, even the toughest hide can be sliced through, literally opening up a new nutritional world. (pages 165-166)

We don't need big teeth to eat meat--we started using stone tools around 2.5 million years ago and started cooking around two million years ago, according to Catching Fire. Watch hunter Shawn Woods butcher a deer with a homemade obsidian stone tool.

The evidence that includes stone tools and cut marks makes more sense to me than Barnard's book, which states on page 168, "On their diet of fruits and vegetation, chimps remain amazingly healthy, free of most of the diseases that plague humans." Well, yes, because they're eating their native diet. If I ever have a chimp to feed, I'll make sure it has plenty of fruits and vegetation.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Breakfast? The ADA Wants You!

There's a hungry kind of feelin'
And every day it grows
There's so much more of you
Than anybody knows

In the ADA, we eat more sugar before 9:00 am than some people eat all day.*

Eat all the carbs we say
'Cause we need you in the ADA.**

In the American Diabetes Association, you'll be eating pancakes, fruit smoothies, oatmeal, cereal, peanut butter, toast, vegetable juice, eggs, and lean Canadian bacon for breakfast--and you'll be eating again before lunch! (I can tell you from long experience that the protein won't quell hunger from falling blood sugar.)

Just look at all the sugar you'll get to eat:

Three pancakes from Hardee's: 12g sugar (53g net carb)
Banana berry 16-size smoothie from Jamba Juice: 73g sugar (80g net carb)
One packet of prepared Quaker instant oats, apple & cinnamon: 12g sugar (23g net carb)
Two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter on a slice of toasted wheat bread: 5g sugar (16g net carb)
One cup of V-8 vegetable juice: 8g sugar (8g net carb)
One cup Kellogg's Raisin Bran cereal: 18g sugar (39g net carb)
One cup 2% milk: 13g sugar (14g net carb)
Eggs & Canadian bacon: no sugar (1g net carb in two eggs)

That's not all: the net carbs include all the digestible carbs--it's all going to turn into sugar when you digest it. A cup of healthy Raisin Bran cereal with 2% milk and a V-8 means 61 grams--or almost one-third of a cup--of sugar.

The ADA is sponsored by General Mills, Kellogg's, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition, the National Dairy Council, and Abbott Nutrition, owned by Abbott Laboratories, makers of blood glucose monitoring systems.

*A typical low-carb diet is less than 50 grams of sugar  carbohydrates a day.
**To the tune of the Army recruiting jingle from 1981.
Nutrition info from

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Magical Research Shows Fat Makes you Sleepy

The Daily Mail has a story(1) about research(2) showing that a high-fat diet makes you sleepy. (See abstract 0977 in the research link.) This flies in the face of my experience and a whole lot of anecdotal experience, too (see the comments to the article). Since starting a low-carb, high fat diet, I haven't needed four-hour naps on the weekend. (See this, this, this, and this.)  I'm not exhausted come 7 p.m. on a Friday night. I have the energy at 44 that I should have had in my twenties. Are we low-carbers violating some law of physics or biology? No--the research and Mail article are magic tricks.

The article is called "Why the Atkins Diet will make you sleepy but a packet of crisps will wake you up." Atkins is a specific diet: 20 grams of carbohydrate per day during induction with adequate protein and fat; most of Dr. Atkins' patients couldn't go over 40 grams of carbohydrate per day without gaining weight. Yet the research article that it refers to doesn't mention the Atkins diet. It also doesn't mention what the participants were fed or how much carbohydrate their meals contained.

One magic trick that low-carb scare studies use is calling a medium-carb diet a low-carb diet. The journal article calls the meals "high fat"; it doesn't say whether the meals were also high-carb or high protein or something in between.

Another magic trick is studying a low-carb diet for less than two weeks, about the amount of time it takes to adapt to such a diet. The study in the journal was conducted over four days. It's not unusual to be a little tired for the first couple of weeks on a low-carb diet.

1. "Why the Atkins Diet will make you sleepy but a packet of crisps will wake you up"  by Emma Innes. Daily Mail, May 8, 2013.
2. "High Fat Intake is Associated with Physiological Sleepiness in Healthy Non-Obese Adults" by Kritikou I, Pejovic S, Vgontzas AN, Fernandez-Mendoza J, Bata M, and Bixler EO. Journal of Sleep and Sleep Disorders Research, Volume 36, 2013, Abstract Supplement, article 0977.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Many Refuse Bread & Other Good News

Pre-low-carb, a Sunday afternoon would have found me taking a four-hour nap. Since I no longer need them unless I'm sick, I've been working in the yard today.

A couple of women came by while I was trimming the front yard. The hedge trimmer seemed to frighten them, but they stopped anyway and offered me some bread, which I told them I couldn't eat. One of them said quite a few people had told them that.

The new portion of lawn I planted last year is still going, despite my lack of caring for it after I fractured my right arm in a bike wreck last year. The two roses I planted are sprouting leaves as well--they should look like this in a year or two:

Salet, introduced in France, 1854. Photo from

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes (an heirloom variety) are coming up in seed trays in the basement, and there's already volunteer lettuce growing out back, even though it snowed a few days ago.

Yesterday, I bought a manual push mower through an ad on Craigslist--and I've had a ton of fun using it. (That's how I should have spent $50 last year instead of buying a bike.) Shredding grass is fun when you don't have to listen to a roaring lawnmower. I mowed a little bit of the neighbors' yard--the place is owned by two blind women who've let the place go to seed, and since there's no clear marker between our yards, their dump looks like it's part of my place. (They used to mow the weeds themselves--I swear I'm not making this up--and ended up destroying several plants in my yard.) Another neighbor says he saw a real estate agent taking photos of the place. We're both hoping it'll have a new owner soon.

Finally, while cleaning out my garage today, I found a pair of prescription sunglasses I thought I'd lost on the bus two years ago. They're a bit out of style now, but it's nice to have a backup pair.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Potatoes Ain't Paleo

A potato is a lump of sugar. -Guest on Jimmy Moore's podcast

Three years ago when I got into low carb diets and helping my mother control her diabetes, I gave myself a blood glucose test. Since I was wheat-free, I used a suggestion from the Blood Sugar 101 site: I ate a potato. That you can use a potato for a home glucose test should be the first clue that it isn't very good for you.

Further clues take a little more digging (sorry). It's a given in camp paleo that grains and beans are Neolithic foods--foods that we weren't eating much of, if any, before we started farming. They're full of lectins and antinutrients. But so are some other agricultural products: potatoes have been cultivated for around 7,000 years in Peru,(1) and spread to the rest of the world only in the past 500 years.(2) Even if you're Irish, German or Russian, your ancestors haven't been eating potatoes for more than a few hundred years. Traditionally, potatoes went through a process of freezing, soaking and drying(3) that got rid of the glycoalkaloids, or saponins.(4) (It sounds similar to the traditional processing of grains.) No more.

Saponins can penetrate the intestines, especially in people with diseases of chronic inflammation (including insulin resistance) which may trigger autoimmune diseases. Potatoes are also a major source of lectins.(5)

Potatoes have vitamin C and potassium--but would you eat a bowl of sugar and justify it by taking a vitamin pill? The main thing potatoes are good for is being a vehicle for lard, butter and salt. (Butter isn't paleo either, of course, but it won't jack up your blood sugar and doesn't contain any funny proteins.) Put the butter and salt on a piece of fish instead, and have some bacon on the side.

Want more info on the non-paleoness of potatoes and other tubers? Read this well-researched article.

1. "Finding Rewrites the Evolutionary History of the Origin of Potatoes." University of Wisconsin-Madison News. October 5, 2005.
2. II.B.3. Potatoes, White, The Cambridge World History of Food.
3. Nutrition and Physical Degradation by Weston A Price. Chapter 13, "Ancient Civilizations of Peru."
4.The Cambridge World History of Food.
4. The Paleo Answer by Loren Cordain. John Wiley & Sons, 2012. Kindle Location 3381.