Ancestral Health Symposium Thoughts, Paleo Vegetarianism, and Other Fun Things

13 08 2011

For those of you who couldn’t attend the first-ever Ancestral Health Symposium that happened August 5th and 6th, I’ll try not to rub it in your face that you missed out on one of the most fantastic health events in the history of the universe. I won’t tell you how you should have soul-crushing regrets about not purchasing a ticket in time, or how you should feel so ill with remorse that you skip work for the rest of the week and sob quietly on your bedroom floor, lamenting. Because that would just be mean.

But seriously, you should have been there because this thing was all sorts of awesome. Read the rest of this entry »





One Year Later: The China Study, Revisited and Re-Bashed

31 07 2011

Lest this blog sink further into its eery two-month silence, I think it’s high time for an update!

First item of business: The Ancestral Health Symposium. Due to some serendipitous events, it turns out I’ll be presenting at this hyperventilation-inducingly-awesome event next week. My lecture is at 10:00 AM on August 6th in the Rolfe 1200 auditorium. If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, I hope to see you there, and to verify my existence for anyone who still thinks I’m a meat industry puppet. Otherwise, unless PETA pops in and sets fire to UCLA, all the presentations should be available online for free shortly after the symposium is over. Woohoo!

Second item of business: Now that he’s outed the project himself, I feel safe in announcing that Mark Sisson is going to be publishing the book I mentioned working on in an earlier blog post, and that it’ll be released mid-2012. I’m super excited, and couldn’t ask for a better publisher to work with. Or one with more impressive abs (see link above). More details to come in the near future.

Now on to the real point of this post. Read the rest of this entry »





Wild and Ancient Fruit: Is it Really Small, Bitter, and Low in Sugar?

31 05 2011

Given the recent blog-o-drama about carbs in the human diet (for instance, here and here), this seems like a fine time to blog about a sweet subject dear to my heart: fruit! More specifically, I want to take a closer look at some common beliefs about wild fruit, and how it differs from the store-bought stuff most of us have access to.

For those looking at evolution for clues about the optimal human diet, fruit is often regarded with suspicion. On one hand, few foods are “intended” for consumption in the way fruit is: In a lovely act of symbiosis, plants offer nourishment to the animal kingdom in trade for seed dispersal. But on the other hand—the one purpled with blackberry stains—we humans are famous for playing Food God, turning once-healthy things into gross abominations. For hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of years, we’ve been selectively breeding certain fruits to become bigger, prettier, easier to eat, and easier to transport thousands of miles away from their mothering trees. As a result, the waxed apples and seedless watermelons lining store aisles are a far cry from their wild ancestors.

And for the health minded, this is a predicament. How can we reconcile this year-round supply of modern fruit with the wild stuff we encountered in the past?

Especially in the paleo/ancestral diet communities, statements like these tend to be widely accepted in a common sense, no-reference-needed sort of way:

  • “Fruits in the Paleolithic would have been tart and smaller, and you may want to limit modern fruit because of this.” (From here)
  • “The problem is that the fruits our paleo ancestors ate no longer exist. While they had mostly bitter fruit, we’ve bred ours over the past 200 years to be extremely sweet and sugary. It’s thus become something akin to candy plus a mediocre multivitamin.” (From here)
  • “Bear in mind that the fruits that paleolithic man ate, while still being, say, apples, bore almost no resemblance to today’s apples. Modern fruit is bred to be HUGE and sweet. Most fruits are packed with a particularly bad sugar, fructose…”(From here)
  • “Fruits have been selectively bread to contain massive amounts of sugar compared to how they used to be. Eating a bunch of tropical fruit is not in the spirit of Paleo.” (From here)

At first glance, that all seems logical enough. Virtually all the food we have available today—from plant and animal kingdoms alike—has been selectively bred for both flavor and ease of eating, and fruit is certainly no exception. It seems reasonable to conclude that, apart from the rare batch of honey or seasonal berry bushes popping up outside, humans didn’t get much exposure to sugar during our evolution, and modern fruits are completely unlike anything we encountered in the past.

But are these assumptions truly accurate? Let’s take a look at the facts. Read the rest of this entry »





New Study: Will Omega-3s Boost Your Risk of Prostate Cancer?

29 04 2011

Two yesterdays ago, I said I was going to “post this tomorrow.” On one hand, that didn’t happen. On the other hand, a one-day delay is still more timely than usual for me, so I’m counting this as a blogging victory. Whip out the kazoos!

As some of you’ve already seen, a major study came out this week with some unexpected findings about DHA, an omega-3 fat abundant in fish. The study linked high blood levels of DHA to aggressive prostate cancer (and trans fats to lower prostate cancer rates). To date, it’s the biggest fat-and-prostate-cancer study of its kind—which makes these findings all the more peculiar. Given the widespread use of fish oil supplements for quelling inflammation and boosting cardiovascular health, it’s a little spooky to think DHA is really a double-edged sword. But is this study really a slam against fish fat?

This analysis wound up as a guest post for Mark’s Daily Apple, so head over there to read the full thing:

Overall, the study itself isn’t too shabby—and the researchers readily admitted their findings surprised them. But this study is far from a harbinger of doom for seafood lovers. The take-home points, and some additional thoughts:

  • Serum fatty acids aren’t a perfect mirror of diet—and the men with higher levels of DHA weren’t necessarily eating more fish. In fact, it seems low-fat diets can actually increase DHA status in the blood the same way omega-3 supplementation can.
  • The “highest levels of serum DHA” reported here were based on percentage of fatty acids—not absolute value. Here’s a great explanation of why percentage-based measurements may be misleading in studies like these.

Another major study, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, also found a slight (but non-statistically-significant) link between prostate cancer and DHA levels in the bloodbut at the same time, found zero association between dietary fish fat and the disease. And as I wrote in the post on Mark’s Daily Apple, nearly all previous studies have shown fish consumption to have either a neutral or protective association with prostate cancer. Blood levels of DHA and dietary intake don’t seem to follow the same pattern in relation to this disease.

That said: I’m pretty weary of long-term mega-dosing of fish oil for other reasons. Thanks to all their double bonds, omega-3s are relatively unstable and prone to oxidation, just like other polyunsaturated fats. It’s quite possible that the anti-inflammatory benefits appearing short term could eventually collide with a new set of problems that take longer to appear: those stemming from oxidative stress. Moderate supplementation probably won’t cause harm, but regularly taking huge doses of fish oil should probably be done with caution. The best strategy for achieving a great omega-3/omega-6 ratio is reducing your intake of high-omega-6 foods like grains and industrial oils, rather than simply chugging back more omega-3 to compensate.

Edit: Paul at Perfect Health Diet has a more technical discussion of omega-3s, angiogensis, and cancer that does make DHA seem a little fishy. Highly worth reading!





Resurfacing

27 04 2011

Thanks to the slew of “Are you dead?” emails I’ve gotten recently, I’m ending my undeclared hiatus to say that… yes, I am. I got smooshed under a food pyramid last month, anvil-from-the-sky style. Tragic and bloody! Fortunately, one of my many corporate sponsors has taken over to bring you this message.

Actually, I’ve had my hands tied lately with things other than death—the biggie being a book I’m writing. (A real one, contract and all!) More details to come. And, like a frustratingly slow-to-ripen fruit, the promised “wheat and heart disease” post is nearing completion. I don’t expect anyone to believe me anymore, but it’s true. A huge thank-you to those of you who’ve had the patience to keep checking back here for that. Your page-refreshing efforts will soon be rewarded.

Other stuff:

Wise Traditions Conference 2011: I’ll be speaking at The Weston A. Price Foundation’s annual conference in Dallas this year—about the China Study, veganism, and anything else they’ll let me gush on about. I hope to see some of you there! The theme this year is “Mythbusters,” and it’s guaranteed to be a great experience.

For those of you who can’t attend that, come hang out with me at the Ancestral Health Symposium coming up in August, which I’m going to try my darnedest to attend. Check out that awesome lineup of speakers! It’s like all the coolest people from the internet will be crammed together in the same building.

Time to give up fish if you’re a dude? A new study came out this week showing that high blood levels of DHA—the omega-3 fat abundant in fish—are linked to aggressive prostate tumor growth. Check out the abstract here and a regurgitated news story here. It’s the largest prospective study so far to examine serum fatty acids and prostate tumor occurrence, so this is one to pay attention to. But as usual, there’s more to the study than the media’s reporting. Check back here tomorrow for a closer look at the full text.

Sucky Science Award of the Day goes to an article by Dr. Tim Harlan at Huffington Post, titled Low-Carb Diets Linked With Type 2 Diabetes:

I can’t imagine why anyone would follow a diet — any diet — that takes entire food groups away from you. There’s no reason to give up great foods like pasta, potatoes, beans and corn to lose weight or to be healthier. Giving up these foods is one of the main reasons that the Atkins diet is not a diet that can be sustained for the long term. Further, such diets seldom prepare people for eating real food. …

Hear that, low-carbers? Your diet doesn’t prepare you for eating real food. Time to practice for Reality with some Twinkies.

There’s been concern for years about the long term health risks of such diets. We’ve seen that those eating higher protein diets that are also high in saturated fat were more likely to develop heart disease than those whose higher protein diet came from vegetable protein sources.

No we haven’t!

The rest of the article is pretty entertaining, too. Read it and weep.

Some housekeeping. I added a subscription button to this site (was it seriously not there before? What a blogging failure I am!). That should make it easier to deal with my chaotic posting schedule. And despite dragging my feet for years, I finally woman-ed up and joined Twitter. I don’t understand it yet, and that makes me nervous. I promise I won’t post 80 million daily updates about when I blink and brush my teeth.

That’s all for now. More posts to come very soon!





The New USDA Dietary Guidelines: Total Hogwash, and Here’s Why

4 02 2011

A few days ago, the USDA finally unveiled their (fashionably late) 2010 dietary guidelines—the first update they’ve made since 2005. Are you as excited as I am? Can we live without bread yet? Leave the fat on our dairy? Ditch the rancid vegetable oils? Gobble down butter and coconut oil without fearing imminent death? By golly, has the USDA finally pulled its head out of the soybean fields and given us something useful, emerging as a reliable authority instead of a food industry puppet?

Nah.

Contrary to my title, though, the new guidelines aren’t total hogwash. Just mostly. A few of their recommendations are passable, like these:

  • Prevent and/or reduce overweight and obesity through improved eating and physical activity behaviors. (Duh.)
  • Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors. (Duh.)
  • Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils. (Duh.)
  • Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium. (Yes!)

Unfortunately, the rest of the guidelines are the regurgitated—and often unsubstantiated—snippets we’re already inundated with. Case in point:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
  • Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.
  • Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
  • Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.

According to the guideline packet, these recommendations provide “information and advice for choosing a healthy eating pattern” and are “based on the most recent scientific evidence review.” If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you probably know by now that I’m weary of trusting second-hand interpretations—the original data often tells a different story than the mouths claiming to interpret it. So instead of taking the USDA’s word as gospel, why not see what they’re basing their recommendations on?

Luckily, the USDA has a Nutrition Evidence Library, where they’ve compiled the studies they used to create their latest guidelines. Let’s dig in. Read the rest of this entry »





Are High Fat, High Cholesterol Diets Linked to Breast Cancer?

20 01 2011

Have I mentioned how much it kills me to post anything less than eight pages long (especially when the not-eight-page-long thing is also not the promised wheat post)? I’ll risk some death today. Mark Sisson kindly invited me to write a guest blog post for Mark’s Daily Apple about that recent study blaming fat and cholesterol for faster-growing, more aggressive breast cancer tumors. It generated quite a few headlines a week or two ago and probably made the low-fat crowd a little smugger about their mammary health. But as usual, the publicized conclusions are a far cry from what the research showed. Here’s a closer look at the study and what it really uncovered:

High Fat Diet Linked to Breast Cancer?

And because this feels a little too much like a link-and-run crime, here’s some stuff this post would’ve had if it were longer:

Get it? Because I’m kind of cheesy and corny? I’m here all night, folks.








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