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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Kids Like Homegrown Vegetables

Here's a good follow-up to my recent post on the growing obesity problem amongst kids: Children Eat More Fruits and Vegetables If They Are Homegrown.

The study found that preschool kids served homegrown fruits and vegetables were nearly twice as likely to eat five servings per day than those who rarely or never had homegrown produce. These kids prefer the taste of fruits and vegetables to other foods and eat a greater variety of fruits and vegetables. This is obviously a great finding. Kids that learn healthful eating habits as young'ins will tend to grow up to be healthier adults. Overweight kids tend to grow up to be overweight adults, so reducing the intake of McDonald's and Burger King in favor of meat and produce is a positive step.

I'm not sure planting a garden is necessary. I bet that much of the reason for the difference is that those that grow their own vegetables just have more vegetables readily available than those that don't. I surmise that a study comparing two groups of families, one group eating 5+ servings/day of homegrown vegetables and one group eating 5+ servings/day of store-bought vegetables, would yield very little difference in the attitudes of kids toward produce. The key is availability and familiarity rather than where the produce is grown. Granted kids are probably more excited about eating something that is grown by mom and/or dad, but I think just having a menu replete with fruits and vegetables will accomplish at least 90% of getting kids to eat their vegetables. And of course mom and dad have to eat them too.

I am working on building my own garden. I've been so busy with the new house and such that I haven't found the time yet and since we're fast approaching summer, it won't happen this year. However, I have picked a spot in my backyard and will start working on getting the soil up to snuff soon. I'm also deciding on what I would like to grow. I'm thinking about broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, asparagus, some sort of lettuce, perhaps onions, and squash. I'd also like to plant some herbs and maybe a chili pepper plant. As I've never really grown anything before, we'll see how my first "harvest" turns out. No kids yet, but hopefully by the time they come along, I'll have a nice green thumb and can provide them with fresh, homegrown produce.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pet Food Yet Again

Y'know, all of this pet food recall news has me thinking about how glad I am that I feed my dog a natural diet of raw meat and produce. I don't have to worry myself with contaminated wheat gluten and, now, rice protein. This whole fiasco just reinforces that I'm doing the right thing for my dog, just as we do for ourselves, in providing natural foods that are matched to her genetic makeup.

And check out this video of how excited she gets when it's eating time. This reaction is every meal, every day.

Fruits, Vegetables, and Your Noggin

More Fruits and Vegetables = Lower Risk of Head and Neck Cancer

One more time, benefits are found from eating more fruits and vegetables.

A large prospective study of 500,000 men and women aged 50 and older has found that those who ate more fruit and vegetables had a reduced risk of head and neck cancer. Head and neck cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide, resulting in more than 350,000 deaths annually.

The study found that an increase of 1 serving of fruits or vegetables per 1000 calories (so around 2 servings per day) was associated with a six-percent reduction in risk for head and neck cancer. It also found that the protection from vegetables was higher than that from fruits. From enlarged prostates to brain function and now reduced risk of head and neck cancer, produce delivers the goods that make them better. Note that vegetables are better than fruits at cancer prevention. Vegetables are much more nutrient dense and should be one of the cornerstones of a healthful diet, along with meat, seafood, and eggs.

All of these studies showing vegetables and fruits to be healthy sure do make me feel good. My vegetable intake is probably higher than that of most vegetarians. I don't grains, opting instead for the much more nutrient dense, calorically sparse offerings from the produce aisle. Try it with your own diet. Replace your grains with vegetables and watch your health improve. You'll also be much less hungry due to the bulk of the vegetables.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Kids and Obesity

This article came through my RSS Reader a few days ago. It is about the significant rise in childhood obesity.

Four-year-old girls are six times more likely to have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 30 than they were 20 years ago and ten-year-olds are five times more likely, according to research published in the April issue of Acta Paediactrica.

The article goes on to note that from 1982 to 2002, the Body Mass Index (BMI) of girls rose 13.3 percent, while that for boys rose 5.1 percent. I'm not a big fan of BMI on an individual basis because it doesn't take muscle mass into effect. Every NFL player and probably most other professional athletes are considered "obese" by the BMI. My BMI is somewhere between 27 and 27.5, yet I maintain a very low bodyfat percentage. Am I really overweight? Across a population though, BMI is rather telling as the muscle-bound freaks are canceled out through averaging.

So what we see is that in the last 20 years, our kids have been getting fatter. That's not news to anyone. What could be causing this precipitous rise in childhood obesity? For starters, kids today have sugar, sugar, sugar at their disposal around every turn. They start their day with sugary cereals or Pop-Tarts or some other sugar- and grain-based food; they arrive at school to vending machines loaded with soft drinks, Honey Buns, cookies, and candy bars; they eat a lunch of pizza, French fries, or some other processed food; and then head home for a snack (which I doubt includes fruits or vegetables) and a carb-o-rific dinner with pasta, bread, or some other substance. It's carbs in the morning, carbs in the evening, and carbs everywhere in between. Nary a piece of produce touches the lips of most kids today. Couple that with the rise of video games, keeping kids inside working their thumbs instead of outside working their bodies, and you have a recipe for obesity.

I have a solution. I won't even charge for it. Feed your kids a hunter-gatherer diet: copious amounts of full-fat meat, vegetables, nuts, proper oils (olive, palm, coconut), fruit, tubers, and squashes. Give them some fish oil for omega-3's. Limit their access to sugar and grain products. If you say your kids won't eat what you put in front of them, too bad. When they get hungry, they'll eat what's available and because you're in charge, it will be healthful foods. If you cave and give them pizza, guess what they'll do next time you present them with a plate of steak and broccoli? And then send them outside with a ball, a bike, or a jump rope. Tell them to find someway to enjoy themselves for an hour. Better yet, get some exercise for yourself and bond with your family at the same time: go for a family bike ride, walk, or jog. Shoot some baskets together. Throw a baseball or football. It really is that simple. Eat foods that can be killed with a stick or dug from the ground and move around.

I'm sure the nutritionists are blaming fat intake though.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mr. Wanjek Responds

I recently wrote an email to Chris Wanjek for his article on Live Science titled "The Atkins Paradox?" A few days ago, I received a response to my email. This is a copy/paste, so all typos are his.


Thanks for your message. You make many good points. I don't write the titles. I hate paradox. But I don't think I was promoting the impossible-to-follow Ornish diet. I just recapped what the study said, almost to the word, that long-term weight management on Atkins is questionable.

My (tainted) experience goes back to the early 1990s at Harvard, where as a student my department was among the first to study the Med diet of fish but little other meat. So that's what got me going on this. Back then, Dr. Atkins posed regularly for teh camera in front of bacon, pork chops and, yes, lunchmeat. There was much talk about "eat the kind of foods you love..." We thought is was kind of funny back then and never dreamed his diet would be so popular.

I'm in Japan this week, where the Atkins diet sounds very funny to the folks here. Obesity is lower than 5%, and the diet is largely (white) rice and vegetables with some fish. Heavy people here confess to eating to much pork and beef.

From a public health view, Argentina has the highest beef consumption and the highest rate of colon cancer. Japan has high salt intake and high rates of stomach cancer. The U.S. has a high rate of fat consumption and the highest obesity rates by far in the world. When you step back to see the whole world as one big study, these kinds of things are revealed.

Again, thanks for your message.


I'd like to first make note that he addressed me as Greg, rather than Scott. Also, he didn't really address many of my points and still doesn't back anything up with facts. But I would like to address the few statements he does make. I'm not returning them to him via email because I'm not sure he read the first one.

Dr. Atkins advises avoiding processed meats. If he truly did pose with lunch meats (and I have no reason to doubt that he did), it is a shameful marketing ploy. It's the same marketing ploy used by Nutri-System and their "I can eat chocolate every day." Every diet has to pass itself off as "eat all the foods you love" even though eating all the foods you love is probably why you need Nutri-System/Atkins/Ornish/etc in the first place. It is an unfortunate fact of our dietary world. However, if he attracted just a few people to read his book and see that processed meats are taboo, perhaps it was worth it. So many people think any low-carb diet is Atkins. My low-carb diet would not be described as Atkins. It probably fits within the macronutrient ratios, but many foods that Dr. Atkins would allow are rarities for my hunter-gatherer diet.

I always question those studies that show fat to be responsible for a society's ills. For instance, citing that Americans eat more fat and are more overweight seems very short-sighted. The American diet isn't characterized only by more fat. It's also characterized by more sugar, more processed carbs, fewer fruits and vegetables (and therefore, fewer vitamins and minerals), more highly processed packaged food, and more fast food. These studies never tell whether the meat that was eaten was grass-fed or grain-fed, fresh or in the form of a salami. Did the people eat alot of pepperoni and the authors just classified it all as "meat"? What types of fat were eaten? Trans fats are killers and polyunsaturated fats (which we're told to eat in abundance) are known for their ability to suppress the immune system and their propensity for attack by free radicals.

The heavy people in Japan confess to eating more pork and beef. But what else do they confess to eating? How is the pork and beef cooked? Is it breaded, fried, and thrown into a sugary sauce? Have they adopted a standard Western diet, rife with fast food, fried junk, sugar, and processed carbs? If so, it is irresponsible science to blame pork and beef. And then there are the cultural confounders. Americans move little and sleep little, both of which are known factors in obesity. Can we attribute the low obesity rate in Japan solely to diet? Okinawans live long healthy lives - is that solely attributable to diet? No; it is also attributed to their low stress, family-oriented life. Americans are nomadic. We leave our families and live a fast-paced, stress-filled life, cranking out loads of cortisol in the process. It's not black and white. I see too many studies that have numerous variables, yet they only make a decision about one of them and it's always conveniently the one that supports their hypothesis. Remember that correlation doesn't equal causation.

As for Argentinians and "the highest rate of colon cancer," I'm not sure that's true. According to The Weston A. Price Foundation, the US has a higher rate of colon cancer and lower consumption of red meat. According to colon this site, the "main factors that initiate colorectal cancer are consumption of cooked red meat (due to heterocyclic amines) (Gerhardsson de V et al 1991; Reddy S et al 1987), high intake of refined carbohydrates (Franceschi S et al 2001), poor vitamin and mineral intake, alcohol consumption, smoking, bile acids, fecal mutagens (DNA-damaging agents), fecal pH, and compromised detoxification enzymes (Winawer SJ et al 1992)." S o it's not necessarily red meat, but cooked red meat or, more appropriately, overcooked red meat. Meat should be cooked slowly and not well-done. (Why would you want it well-done anyway? All of the flavor cooks out.) Also note "high intake of refined carbohydrates" and "poor vitamin and mineral intake," two factors which most surely affect the US. A 1975 article in Cancer Research mentions Finland, a country with a high-fat intake and a low colon cancer rate. And then there are the meat-eating Mormons with similar or lower colon cancer rates compared to the vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists. It isn't as cut and dry as so many nutritionists would have us believe. Humans have eaten red meat, and lots of it, for hundreds of millenia, yet they weren't dropping dead from colon cancer until relatively recently. Again, a look to our genetic roots points us in the right direction - sugar and refined carbohydrates are not part of the diet that shaped our genome.

When you step back to see the world as one big study, what is revealed is that there are so many confounding factors across groups to destroy most any hypothesis. That doesn't stop people from arriving at the conclusions that they want to see though. "Oh look at those Americans eating all of that fat and look at how big their waistlines are. Let's disregard the baked potato and bread they had with their steak and focus on the butter and animal fat. And then there's the fat in the cake they ate." So keep that in mind when you read reports that fat (or any other single nutrient) is responsible for all of society's ills.

Eat like a caveman and you won't experience the debillitating diseases of our modern culture. Eat meat, vegetables, nuts, healthful oils (like olive, palm, and coconut), fruits, tubers, and squashes. Earn your carbs by exercising intensely. Avoid processed foods, grains, sugar, polyunsaturated oils, and fast food. It's really rather simple.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Atkins Paradox?

I found this lovely article by Chris Wanjek today. As you can imagine, that article made me shake my head in disgust. He is so far off-base, repeating the standard party line that I had to send him the following email:

I have to disagree with you regarding your column on "The Atkins Paradox". First, I have to make it known that I find it hilarious that whenever a high fat diet shows weight loss, it's a paradox. We have The Atkins Paradox, The French Paradox, and The Inuit Paradox. There's always something to explain it away. Genetics (ha!), red wine (HA!), or some other ad hoc hypothesis. One day people will realize that the paradox is that our so-called nutritionists ignored reality for so long and advocated a low-fat diet. Second, you mention some cad eating a package of bologna and washing it down with a Diet Coke as being on the Atkins Diet. He may be following the letter of the law, but he's certainly not following the spirit. Dr. Atkins focused on meat and vegetables, not pork rinds and artificial sweeteners. I bet Dr. Ornish wouldn't agree that fat-free Twinkies are a good food choice, even though they fall into the macronutrient guidelines of his diet. Of course, he won't stop that from letting him attack Dr. Atkins. In fact, I bet someone following a proper Atkins diet eats far more vegetables than someone following the standard American diet. Perhaps you should better acquaint yourself with what Dr. Atkins really preached. Have you even read The Atkins Diet? And then there's the ad hominem attack on Dr. Atkins about his fall on ice. When you can't attack the science, attack the person - is that how it works? You can surely do better than that.

You mention the "mountains of data" supporting the saturated fat/heart disease myth. I urge you to read The Great Cholesterol Con by Anthony Colpo. You'll see just how much selective science has been used to create the government guidelines. It goes against everything you've been taught. Perhaps it'll open your eyes to the facts: saturated fat isn't a killer and cholesterol isn't a killer. Do you know why it's hard to get to 10% fat on the Ornish Diet? It's unnatural! The human body is designed to run on fat for a majority of the time. Fat stimulates the hormones that suppress appetite as does protein. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, do not. There is a reason people associate a low fat diet with starvation; they are always hungry due to the lack of fat and protein.

You mention that humans have been eating a carbohydrate-based diet for the last few millenia, but what about the hundreds of thousands of years before the advent of agriculture? What did hunter-gatherer humans eat up until about 10,000 years ago? I'll give you a hint: it wasn't a plant-based diet. Grains weren't available in any quantity and the caloric cost of processing them to be edible ( i.e., to reduce their antinutrient content) was higher than the calories garnered from them. It wasn't until we figured out how to grow large quantities of grains that we were able to turn to a carbohydrate-based diet. Think about it logically: plant matter is seasonal; animal food is not. Humans EVOLVED on a diet based on animal products - meat, organs, fat, and bone marrow - and somehow they weren't keeling over from heart disease and cancer. The one year-round staple food before the global distribution network that we enjoy today was meat. Meat of all kinds. And I guarantee you that hunter-gatherers weren't picking up the nearest sharp rock to trim the fat. In fact, they relished the organs and fat more than anything. Check out The Weston A. Price Foundation and Dr. Loren Cordain's The Paleo Diet for a good look into the diet that humans evolved on.

I would absolutely love to see you support this statement with some facts: "Country by country, populations become obese when they adopt an American diet high in animal fat and simple sugars." Quite frankly, it is bunk. First, check the archeological records and see that human health began to suffer when we adopted a (drum roll) grain-based diet. Height suffered, dental health suffered, and population boomed. A high carbohydrate, grain-based diet is good for population growth, but not for human health. Second, I would argue that the obesity epidemic began after the USDA Food Pyramid which focuses on grains, grains, and grains to the exclusion of meat and fat. In fact, the paradox here is that we're told by the goverment that we should eat more grains, a food which MUST be processed, over fruits and vegetables, which can be picked fresh off a tree or from the ground and eaten right on the spot. Our biggest problem isn't meat consumption; it's food product consumption. Too many people focus on food products rather than on food. If it comes in a colorful box, it's a food product. If it can be killed with a stick or dug from the ground, it's food.

Chris, please stop repeating the standard party line of "eat less fat," "animal foods are bad for you," and "Dr. Ornish knows all". Open your mind and do some research beyond what the media reports. This week they love low-carb because it's a story that sells. Next week they'll hate it because it'll be a story that sells. It's unfortunate that Live Science is buying into that, pushing a vegetarian diet and vilifying that which has never been given a fair shake anyway. Note that Ancel Keys' cholesterol hypothesis, on which the saturated fat tripe is based, was flawed from the beginning. He selected only the data that proved what he wanted to prove, discarding the other two-thirds of the data that proved his hypothesis to be nothing but a cloud of smoke.

The biggest problem with The Atkins Diet isn't the diet itself, but the way that most people implement it with using low-carb this and low-carb that, rather than going for the foods on the original low-carb diet: meat, vegetables, nuts, fruit, and tubers. And here's the irony: if people would simply eat foods that don't come with a Nutrition Facts label and a list of health claims, they would likely be eating the right things. Macronutrient content matters little if you're eating meat, vegetables, nuts, fruit, and tubers. The body will naturally regulate intake with nutrient-dense, satiating foods. Eat from the above five groups of whole, natural foods and Atkins, Ornish, Sears, et al will be out of business. Of course, so will all of the nutritionists...keeping us confused about what to eat is good for business, even if it's not good for our waistlines.

I could continue debunking the nutrition information on Live Science's site, but I think I have continued long enough.


I am awaiting his response and will let you know if I get one.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Seasonal Eating

All hail the arrival of spring! For those of us in Midwestern climes, March brought some relief from this winter's bitter cold and we're now facing down full weeks of 70+ degree weather. For those of us in the Ohio River Valley, spring is also the lead-in to the amazingly humid summer. Walking outside during July and August in Louisville is similar to walking into the ocean and trying to breathe. You can pretty much just swim to your car. Anywho, my local weather is not the point of this post, although I am quite excited about long, warm spring days. The point is that spring brings a change in eating for those of us that follow a seasonal eating pattern.

Why follow a seasonal eating pattern? I choose a seasonal eating pattern for a few reasons. First, as you know from the title of this blog, I look to our ancestral eating patterns for answers to the "what should I eat?" question. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in a world where food availability was based on the seasons. It may surprise you to learn that there was no global distribution network 50,000 years ago. Even in the tropics where there is no real "winter," plants have definite fruiting and flowering seasons. Certain fruits and vegetables would have only been available during certain seasons. The one mainstay would have been meat, but even it had differing fat levels throughout the year. Second, seasonal eating forces variety. Apples are not a year-round food, nor are pineapples, cucumbers, summer squashes, winter squashes, or most any other plant-based food. Eating seasonally forces you to come up with ways of making delicious meals from the available foods. And as an added bonus, foods that are in season will taste much better. Pick up some strawberries in January and you will understand my point. Finally, I think there are benefits of varying macronutrient intake throughout the year so as not to force the body to rely on a single source of fuel year-round. Most people are heavily carb-focused and their ability to burn fat as a fuel source is drastically inadequate.

Throughout the winter, I've been subsisting on a fairly low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet. Because of the lower carb intake, I focused my workout efforts mainly on improving my strength base with the big lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench and overhead presses, cleans) and improving a few gymnastics skills, such as the planche and front lever rather than on intense metabolically demanding CrossFit workouts. My diet through the winter has consisted of lots of meat (chicken with skin, meat with all its fat) and oils with moderate servings of sweet potatoes, squashes, and other dense carb sources and a few leafy vegetable salads here and there, although they are technically not in-season. That doesn't mean that I don't eat out-of-season foods at times, just that I focus mainly on foods that are in-season. World's Healthiest Foods describes winter foods as "warming," or those that take longer to grow. Root vegetables (like carrots and radishes) and cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc) are winter foods. The ability of cayenne peppers to warm the body make them a good choice in the winter as well.

Spring is an exciting time in the food world. Just look around you when you're outside. Everything that was dead is starting to turn green, soaking up the warmth from the bright sun, as nature begins its yearly renewal. This means that a seasonal eater will be incorporating a great deal of green foods into his/her diet. One of my favorite plant foods, the avocado, comes into season in spring and is wonderful cut up over the top of a salad or steak or mashed up with some onion and garlic to make guacamole. Greens like spinach, romaine, collards, and many others are spring goods. My spring menu will consist of lots of salads, avocados, asparagus, and herbs like parsley and basil, along with some remaining root vegetables like carrots and radishes. A spring menu is a light menu. The end of spring also brings us strawberries and raspberries, along with pineapple.

Moving into summer, we get into all of the delicious fruits that pretty well suck all winter. Along with standard fare like lettuce, cucumbers, avocadoes, celery, and onions, we get to sink our teeth into all of those succulent berries, such as straw, blue, black, and rasp. Peaches, watermelon, canteloupe, honeydew, grapes, peppers, and green beans are just a few of the other plant-based foods that become available to us in the hot months. Because of the heat of summer, you don't want to overeat; light and fresh foods are the way to go during this season, with lots of fish, vegetables, and fruits. If you're eating grassfed meat, you're likely to find it less fatty during spring and summer. Almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and Brazil nuts come into season during the summer, so be sure to include plenty of these delicious nuts to cover your fat needs. When you plan your summer menu, think of cooling foods like the above fruits and vegetables, but don't forget to include some firey foods like horseradish, ginger, and cayenne. I like to get outside more during the spring and summer months, hanging out on the deck, chit-chatting with neighbors and using the grill to avoid heating the house with the oven.

While spring bursts with green, fall brings us back to brown in preparation for the cold winter awaiting us. We see an explosion of color from the trees before the greenery of spring and summer slowly fades to brown. The moist summer fruits and vegetables yield to the drier, denser fall carbohydrate sources like carrots, radishes, sweet potatoes, yams, and squashes. However, the end of summer and the fall do bring us apples, pears, grapes, and pomegranates, so don't completely neglect the fruit yet. Fall is a time for moving back inside, retreating into the warmth of our homes just as the rest of the living world is doing. My kitchen sees more use as fall progresses into winter, allowing the oven to heat the home and spread the smells of soups and slow-cooked meats.

So there you have it, seasonal eating in a nutshell. Some of the foods that I eat each season may not technically be at the peak of ripeness and perfectly in season, but there is a definite shift towards root vegetables in the cold months with no fruit intake and back to green vegetables and fruits in the warmer months. Eating in season means you can eat locally grown produce. The less distance your food has to travel the better it is for the environment. I'd choose produce from a local small farmer than from an organic farm in California (folks in California, substitute Florida into the previous sentence). Check out your local farmer's markets. Unfortunately my local farmer's market isn't open through the winter, so I end up with organic and/or conventionally grown produce from the supermarket. Such is life. The key is that any produce is better than no produce. These two sites can help you eat seasonally: All Foods Natural and CUESA (more comprehensive). Note that the CUESA site points out when fruits and vegetables are in their natural season and when they are available in the market, which don't always correspond in our modern world.