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Monday, July 30, 2007

Book Review: The End of Food

I finished The End of Food: How the Food Industry Is Destroying Our Food Supply-And What You Can Do about It by Thomas Pawlick last night. This is a solid book that describes everything from how our food is raised to how our food is packaged. The first chapter runs through the lack of choice that we as consumers are given, limited to only a few out of thousands of varieties of tomatoes, apples, and other produce. Food growers and supermarkets select the most hearty and most profitable varieties, rather than the tastiest or most nutritious. Chapter Three runs through the cornucopia of additives, preservatives, and other crud that gets into pre-packaged foods, or as Pawlick calls it, a "Witch's Brew".

You'll also get a glimpse into the factory farms that produce the beef, chicken, eggs, and pork that are found in every supermarket and will most likely walk away vowing to eat only grass-fed, sustainably raised meats and eggs. Reading his account of how egg-laying chickens are treated assures me that I won't be eating any of the chicken that ends up in cans of soup and processed into other forms that make it impossible to see the abuse these animals endure (after they're depleted of egg-laying potential, they are chopped up for soups and such). I stick to grass-fed beef and antibiotic/hormone-free chicken, veal, and pork and since I don't eat much in the way of prepackaged foods, it's easy for me to avoid stuff like canned chicken soup. It was disturbing nonetheless. Hopefully this book turns you on to farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture, grassfed meats and chickens, and possibly even prods a few of us into planting our own gardens and raising some of our own food.

The book is only ~240 pages and is a pretty easy, but informative, read. I went through it in about 5 or 6 days of reading. The last chapter is actually just a list of resources for people wanting to plant their own gardens, get into farming, etc. I haven't read many of the books on his list, so I can't vouch for the quality of them, but I can say that it's at least 10 pages of further reading.

Bonus review: Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill - I finished this book right before I started The End of Food. It's not really a health-related book, but it is a good read into how epidemic viruses and plagues shaped history and helped lead us to where we are today. He examines both macroparasites (such as government taxes, barbarian hordes, and wars) and microparasites (measles, smallpox, etc) and how a shift in the level of stress caused by either can destroy a population. For instance, the government must be sure not to overtax their citizens so as to make it worthwhile for the citizens to keep working and growing the population. Similarly, what works today from a macroparasitic level may not work tomorrow when smallpox is ravaging through a country. The writing is dry, but I found the subject matter quite interesting.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Who Owns Your Favorite Organic Brands?

Here are two images from the latest Organic Consumers newsletter showing organic brands owned by major food manufacturers and independent organic manufacturers. It's interesting that most of the organic products that are found in a typical supermarket are from the conglomerates, rather than the independents. The only independents that I can recall seeing in my local supermarket are Clif, Eden Foods, Newman's Own, and Applegate Farms. I'm sure if I did more shopping at Whole Foods, I'd see more of them. Anyway, just informative.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Couch Potatoes

This picture from The Economist says a lot. Americans watch an average of 8 hours and 11 minutes of television per day.

DESPITE an increase in entertainment choices, watching television remains as popular as ever, according to the OECD's "Communications Outlook 2007". In 15 of the 18 countries for which data were collected, broadcast-TV viewing increased from 1997 to 2005. Only in Spain, New Zealand and South Korea did people watch less. America takes the couch-potato crown, with households goggling at the box for an eye-straining average of 8 hours and 11 minutes every day. The nearest rival, Turkey, only manages an average of five hours a day.

It doesn't say if that is for multiple TVs running at once, so perhaps two TVs each on for 4 hours, but I would bet that is the case. Regardless, 8+ hours of TV time is a lot of time spent sitting idle. An hour of TV is more than enough for me and I don't even do that daily. I have a hard time watching movies because they drag on so long and I find my mind wandering to everything else. I'm much more of an Internet person, so it's not like I'm out saving the whales or protecting the rainforests. I simply choose a different way to waste my time. I think as a nation though, this exemplifies our growing obesity problem. We eat more calories, more processed foods and move less. Those variables add up to increased waistlines.

I really can't get into reality TV. Watching other people live their lives, while I'm busy not living mine just isn't fun. We'd all (including me) be better off if we took our dogs for a walk or took the kids out for a game of catch, a stroll in the park, or a bike ride. I don't have kids of my own, but I imagine that would be a better bonding experience than staring idly at the TV.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Few Recent Posts and Articles

Here are a few posts from the past couple weeks that I've enjoyed:
Frank Forencich, the Exuberant Animal, discusses Who's Holistic? I really like the stuff Frank writes on his Animal Times site. I really like how he closes it out:

It doesn't matter whether you're working at a school, a gym or a studio. The age of specialization is waning; it no longer works to dig one hole, deeper and deeper while ignoring the rest of the world. The time for panoramic vision is upon us. It's time to train the whole animal.

Ross Enamait gave a link to an article showing that high intensity exercise improves learning. So go do some sprints before reading that textbook.

Here is a good read about the Mexican government educating Americans about real Mexican vs. Tex-Mex. I love the American version of Mexican food and would love to try the authentic stuff.

Shaun Boyd, at Life Reboot, has a post that focuses on a different area of health than I typically discuss: happiness (and by extension, stress). Check out his 10 Articles That Changed My Life. If you only have a few minutes or don't want to read them all, I suggest Steve Job's commencement address (#1) and Steve Pavlina's "Don't Die With Your Music Still In You" (#3).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hayflick Limit, Intermittent Fasting, and Life Extension

There was an interesting discussion of using Intermittent Fasting for life extension at the Performance Menu a few weeks ago. Robb Wolf, in all his genius, mentioned something I'd never heard of before known as the Hayflick Limit. This principle is a conondrum for those hoping for to extend life much beyond normal human limits.

Here's a quote from the Wikipedia article that sums it up nicely:

The limit to the number of times a cell divides has been noted in all human cell types that have been fully differentiated, as well as in other organisms. It varies from cell type to cell type, and more significantly from organism type to organism type. The human limit is around 52.

I find this kind of biochemical geekiness absolutely fascinating.

I recently talked about Intermittent Fasting and the benefits that I have derived from it. In that post, I mentioned CRON (or CRAN) and how its practitioners hope to retard the aging process and extend their lives. My reasoning for doing IF is less about quantity of life and more about quality of life. If I had a choice of leading a full and active life and dying at 75 or leading the inactive life that CRONies are forced to live due to their limited caloric intake but having an extra 10 years, I would go with dying at 75 and living life to the fullest (my opinion may change as I near that age though). I find that IF allows me to find the perfect Triple Point (another gem from Robb) of Performance, Health, and Longevity. I am able to perform optimally in the gym, my health is impeccible, and I would surmise that, barring some freak accident, my longevity will be above average. I don't expect to extend my life to some beyond-human-limits age. I feel that I am merely setting myself up to live past the average life expectancy and still be a functioning member of society rather than one of the typical worn-down 80 year olds we see.

Dr. Garrett Smith mentioned on a Crossfit Live session (episode 12) many moons ago that if you ask someone if they want to live to 95, they nearly invariably say no (it's in that mp3 somewhere). That's because what we commonly see is people that live a good life until 60 or 65, then a life of poor nutrition, stress, poor sleep, and no exercise catches up with them and they spend the next 20 years dying. But there are plenty of vibrant, energetic, and strong septuagenarians and beyond. These folks don't exhibit that typical wasting away, medicated lifestyle characteristic of aging. That is what I'm shooting for - 85+ years of life and then a quick, natural death rather than 65 years of life and a long, drawn-out death that takes 20 years and saps every bit of life from my soul; alive, but not truly alive. In the natural world, death is a quick process and as Dr. Smith notes, after an accident or injury, the healthy tend to either get better or die rather than languishing in an ever-increasing cycle of loss of independence, function, and health. "Get better or die," as cold as it sounds, is the way nature works.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Book Review: The Body Ecology Diet

I finished The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates about two weeks ago (and just now got around to writing a review). Overall, it is a high quality book. It tends to be a bit new-ageish in parts and I'm not sure all of the colon cleansing is necessary. But the key point that she drives home is the need for probiotics and fermented foods, which provide probiotics. Kefir, coconut kefir, and fermented vegetables, along with mineral-rich sea vegetables are cornerstones of The BED. My take is to ignore the blood typing part of the book, take what you want from the parts about colon cleansing, and pay attention when she talks about what to eat and when. I haven't experimented enough with eating fruit apart from other foods to know if it makes a difference, so I can't speak to that. Some of the recipes sound tasty and I can't wait to try making some kefir from coconut water. I just have to order the starter culture.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New Paleo Diet Newsletter

Dr. Cordain's latest Paleo Diet Newsletter is now available. This one focuses on the concept of the Paleo Diet and discusses the Agricultural Revolution.

Ad Lib Eating and Intermittent Fasting

"Eat 5 smaller meals per day to maintain energy levels." That's pretty common knowledge in the nutrition world, is it not? I reject this line of thought. I eat only as many times as I need to eat each day. My day consists of somewhere between 1 and 3 meals, generally two large meals with about 18-20 hours of fasting ("compressed eating window"). I don't really see the point in forcing myself to eat 5 or 6 times each day. There are several reasons I eat this way.

First, the human body isn't designed for constant feasting. A constant titration of calories and insulin is not a natural state for humans, who would've fasted (or eaten lightly) during the day's hunting and gathering and then feasted at night. Some days there would be little food (unsuccessful hunt). Some days there would be abundant food (woolly mammoth!). But nevertheless, our ancestors would not have eaten 5 meals each day. I have no scientific data to back this up, but my body tells me that giving it a break from constant digesting is much appreciated. The studies that have been done on Intermittent Fasting (check PubMed) show promise.

Second, Caloric Restriction (CRAN) has shown promise in promoting health and extending life (in mice). Intermittent Fasting, which is technically a 24 hours on, 24 hours off schedule, shows many of the same benefits as CRAN, such as increased beta hydroxybutyrate, marked decreases in blood glucose and insulin, and increases in neuroprotection and neuroendocrine response. But the beauty of IF is that it doesn't have the downsides of CRAN like decreased body weight. Take a look at some of hardcore CRAN practitioners...many are quite twig-like and quite a few lose their sex drive, all for a chance at having a few more years tacked onto the end of their lives. I love this quote: "I'm a much more considerate husband and father than I was prior to starting the diet. My testosterone is extremely low, in the ballpark of an average woman." Sounds like a blast. Robb Wolf has written some good stuff in The Performance Menu about Intermittent Fasting; Issue 6 is a nice introduction.

Also, I find that I think better when I don't have a belly full of food. This works out well at work. When everyone else is hitting their post-lunch lull, I'm still humming along. And I don't lose the 30 minutes or hour of work to eating. Similarly, my workout performance is better during my fast than if I have eaten within 4 or 5 hours before the workout. I'm stronger, lighter, and crisper during a fast than afterwards. The body and mind just seem to work better during short fasts. I surmise that this is an evolutionary adaptation providing peak performance right when it is needed: at food finding time. The body doesn't need such levels of energy and clear thinking following a meal as energy supplies are secure for awhile so it can devote the blood supply to the stomach for digestion.

Finally, it's hard enough to put together 2 or 3 perfect meals of meat, vegetables, nuts, fruits, and tubers. Forcing yourself to eat on a schedule is setting yourself up to eat subpar foods. And eating 5+ times per day is that many opportunities to eat foods that you really shouldn't be eating. I have very few chances to cheat on my nutrition plan each day since I rarely eat away from my house. And the cheat foods that are in my pantry aren't as detrimental as anything in a snack machine. Plus, it is easier to not eat than it is to eat just a little.

While I generally end up not eating breakfast or lunch and then chowing down when I get home, the real beauty is that I can break my fast at any point in time without a major effect. If I get overly hungry, I eat. I don't have to remain dogmatically tied to a certain eating schedule. If I'm hungry in the morning, I'll grab a small breakfast. If I get hungry at work, I can walk downstairs and grab a salad. That's the "ad lib" part of my fasting regimen. I find that following an this nutrition plan puts me much more in tune with my body than 5 perfectly timed meals ever did. I understand what is real hunger and what isn't. I aim for long fasts, but if my body says "uh uh," I eat.

I typically follow one of two eating plans each day. Right now, I'm not working out due to my shoulder surgery (which I'm recovering from nicely), so most days I get up, get dressed, go to work, come home from work, then break my fast with a handful of nuts while I make my patented enormous salad (~20 hour fast). This constitutes my first meal, which I follow about 2 hours later with another feast of meat and vegetables and plenty of olive oil. If I'm still hungry after that, I might coat some berries, grapes, and/or melon with coconut oil, coconut, and cinnamon for dessert or get ahold of some almond butter and get some more good fat calories in. Two large meals in 3-4 hours. When I am working out, I usually time my workout for early- to mid-afternoon and then eat some starchy carbs, protein, and fat an hour or so later, then I head home after work and have 1 big meal (15-18 hour fast).

Many people that follow a "compressed eating window" (eating the same number of calories in a shorter time frame, like my 18-20 hour fasts) find that they recover from workouts faster and contrary to what you would think, don't lose tons of weight. Until my recent bout of two shoulder dislocations and surgery (mid-May), I had gained about 8 lbs while dropping some fat, so probably a 10-pound muscle gain starting in Dec, with pretty big gains in the major lifts of deadlift, squat, and overhead press. So I was getting in enough high quality calories to fuel muscle growth while gaining weight and still losing fat. That's contrary to the popular belief that you can't gain muscle while losing fat unless you are a rank beginner, isn't it? It is possible if one is eating properly and lifting properly. Alwyn Cosgrove touched on this recently.

I've been asked a few times about "starvation mode" and catabolism (muscle breakdown). I don't know the mechanisms behind it, but my jump from 185 lbs (~9.5% bodyfat) to 193 lbs (~8.5% bodyfat) during the months of Dec to May certainly show that I wasn't wasting away and that a bit of catabolic action didn't harm muscular growth. Catabolism is every bit the natural process that anabolism (muscle growth) is. Art DeVany gave a brief description of the benefits of catabolism following a workout.

An easy way to get up to speed on fasting is The Fast-5 Diet. I dislike the author's lack of concern over food quality, but I think that's more of a way to make it marketable than anything else. I mean who really wants to hear that they have to get rid of their crappy food AND not eat for 19 hours of the day? Needless to say, a fasting protocol with high-quality natural foods is better than a fasting protocol with low-quality processed foods. It is also easier to fast on a low-carb diet than on a low-fat diet since carbs stimulate the appetite, while protein and fat are satiating.

One other thing I've noticed is that I appreciate my food much more. When I eat, I really savor the flavors, textures, smells, and colors rather than just mindlessly forcing more food down my gullet as I did in past days of eating every 3 hours. Fasting really brings an appreciation of the food that you are eating. Give it a shot.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Paleo Diet trumps Mediterranean Diet

Say it ain't so Joe! But it is. Imagine that...eating a diet in line with our genetic roots helps people regain/maintain their health. Here is the abstract of the study for those inclined to read such things.

The main result was that the blood sugar rise in response to carbohydrate intake was markedly lower after 12 weeks in the Paleolithic group (–26%), while it barely changed in the Mediterranean group (–7%). At the end of the study, all patients in the Paleolithic group had normal blood glucose.

The main difference between the diets was that the Paleo group consumed more fruit and fewer grains and dairy. It goes back to what I always say: Eat a diet based on meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, tubers, and squashes. There is nothing in a grain that isn't found in fruits and vegetables. I imagine as more of these studies on Paleolithic nutrition roll out, we'll keep seeing these kinds of results.