Menampilkan postingan dari Maret, 2008

Visceral Fat and Dementia

This study was released today, demonstrating in 6,583 patients that visceral fat mass in the 40s predicts the risk of dementia in old age. Patients in the highest quintile (20% with the most visceral fat mass) had an almost three-fold higher risk of dementia than patients in the lowest quintile. Overall fat mass was less strongly correlated with dementia. This study is so timely, they must have heard about my blog post.

They used a measure of visceral fat called the "sagittal abdominal diameter", basically the distance from the back to the belly button. In other words, the beer belly.

What we're looking at is another facet of the pervasive "disease of civilization" that rolls into town on the same truck as sugar and white flour. Weston Price described it in 14 different cultures throughout the world in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer and dementia all seem to come hand-in-hand. It's hard to say ex…

Visceral Fat

This week, I stumbled upon a very interesting series of articles from the lab of Dr. Nir Barzilai.

The first article I came across showed that surgical removal of the visceral fat deposit of rats increased their lifespan. Visceral fat (VF) is the "beer belly", and consists of the perinephratic fat around the kidneys and the omental fat in front of the intestines. It doesn't include subcutaneous fat, the fat layer under the skin.

VF is tightly associated with the metabolic syndrome, the quintessential "disease of civilization" that affects 24% of Americans (NHANES III). It's defined by three or more of the following criteria: high blood pressure, large waist circumference, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high fasting glucose. The metabolic syndrome is associated with a 3-4-fold increase in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and a 6-fold increase in the risk of developing type II diabetes. From a review on the metabolic syndrome…

Okinawa and Lard

The inhabitants of Okinawa, an island prefecture of Japan, are one of the longest-lived populations in the world. Their diet and lifestyle have been thoroughly studied for this reason. Papers typically focus on their consumption of vegetables, fish, soy, sweet potatoes, exercise, and the fact that some of them may have been mildly calorie restricted for part of their lives.

The thing that often gets swept under the rug is that they eat lard. Traditionally, it was their primary cooking fat. Of course, they also eat the pork the lard came from.

I'm not saying lard will make you live to 100, but a moderate amount certainly won't stop you...

Real Food IV: Lard

Your great-grandmother would have told you that natural, homemade lard is an excellent cooking fat. It has a mild, savory flavor and a high smoke point. It's well suited for sauteing and frying foods, and it makes the flakiest savory crust. It's also cheap to buy and easy to render. Rendering lard is the process by which fat tissue is turned into pure fat. I buy the best quality lard available for $2/lb at my farmer's market, making it far cheaper than butter and olive oil of equivalent quality.

The best place to buy lard is at a local farmer's market. Look for pigs that have been "field-raised" or "pasture-raised", and are preferably organic. This ensures that they receive sunlight and have been treated humanely. The "organic" label by itself simply means they have been fed organic feed; the pigs will often not have had access to the outdoors. I recommend avoiding conventional (non-organic) pork at all costs, because it's prof…

Thoughts on Obesity, Part I

From the US Centers for Disease Control website:

Since the mid-seventies, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased sharply for both adults and children. Data from two NHANES surveys show that among adults aged 20–74 years the prevalence of obesity increased from 15.0% (in the 1976–1980 survey) to 32.9% (in the 2003–2004 survey). In hunter-gatherer and some semi-agricultural societies, obesity is rare. In most, it's nonexistent. Wild animals typically do not accumulate enough fat to interfere with vigorous exercise, and when they do, it's because they're about to hibernate or migrate. Wild animals also tend to have similar amounts of body fat between individuals (at a given age and sex), unlike industrialized humans. This makes me think that obesity is an unnatural effect of our current lifestyle. Whatever the cause, it's getting progressively more common.

According to certain nutrition experts, we know exactly what causes overweight. It…

Say Hello to the Kuna

For those of you who haven't been reading the comments, we've been having a spirited discussion about the diet and health of hunter-gatherers here. I brought up the Kuna indians in Panama, who are immune to hypertension, live a good long time, do not gain excess weight, and seem to have less cardiovascular disease and cancer than their city-dwelling cousins.

I was hungry for more information about the Kuna lifestyle, so over the last few days, I've dug up every paper I could find on them. The first paper describing their lack of hypertension was published in 1944 and I don't have access to the full text. In 1997, a series of studies began, headed by Dr. Norman Hollenberg at Harvard. He confirmed the blood pressure findings, and collected data on their diet, lifestyle and kidney function. Here's a summary:

The Kuna are half hunter-gatherers, half agricultural. They cultivate plantains, corn, cocoa, yucca, kidney beans, and several types of fruit. They trade fo…

Real Food III: Yogurt

Fermented milk is regarded by many cultures as a delicious health food. It has cropped up all over the world in different forms: kefir from Caucasia, laban from the Middle East, dahi from India, creme fraiche from Western Europe, piima from Finland, mursik from Kenya, and yogurt from your grandmother's house. But these same people would scarcely recognize the colored, sweetened gel that passes for yogurt in grocery stores today.

Most if not all dairy-eating cultures ferment their milk. Why is this? There are three main reasons. First of all, unpasteurized milk spontaneously ferments at room temperature, usually becoming delicious "clabbered milk"- whereas pasteurized milk becomes putrid under the same conditions. So fermented milk is difficult to avoid. The second, related reason, is that fermentation prolongs the life of milk in the absence of refrigeration. Fully fermented milk is stable for weeks at room temperature.

The third reason is that these cultures know …

Improving Fuel Economy

OK, you know driving isn't good for the environment, but you're going to do it anyway. Here's how to substantially increase your fuel economy without buying a new car:

1- Drive deliberately; accelerate gradually. A car uses a lot of fuel when it's accelerating rapidly.

2- Drive 55 mph on the highway.This makes a huge difference. It maximizes fuel efficiency by reducing wind resistance, which exponentially increases with speed. This reduces gas consumption by more than 20% relative to a speed of 75 mph. 60 mph is almost as good, if 55 is to slow.

3- Draft a truck. Large trucks with flat, square backs leave a massive low-pressure zone behind them, which you can exploit to save gas. At 20 feet behind a standard 18-wheeler, you will use about 27% less fuel. If that's too close, you still save 20% at 50 feet, and 11% at 100 feet. Be careful because trucks have a blind spot behind them, and some truckers do not appreciate drafting.

4- Keep your car well-maintained. …

Convenience Store Survival Training

I was on the road yesterday driving to a county court to defend myself (unsuccessfully) against a speeding ticket. I reluctantly stopped into a convenience store on my way back, to see if there was anything I would eat for lunch.

I actually did find two things that were palatable and not too unhealthy: canned sardines and toasted cashews. The total was $2.50, affordable even for a grad student.

The sardines were canned in "tomato sauce", which I realized later contained soybean oil. Oops. Well I suppose when you get your food at a convenience store, you have to expect such things.

The main thing that bothered me was the trash. I posted a mugshot (above) of the can, fork and plastic bag that I either trashed or recycled as a result of the meal. The total volume of trash was probably almost as much as the total volume of food.

I think if you stick to nuts, canned fish and fresh fruit, it's possible to survive a convenience store stop. And Baby Ruths. Those are healthy,…

Two Tons of Steel

While I was waiting for the bus one morning, I decided I'd count cars to see how many were single-occupancy vs. two or more. I came up with a ratio of roughly 20 single-occupancy vehicles for every multiple-occupancy vehicle. The multiple-occupancy vehicles were most often work trucks, containing plumbers or construction workers going to a job.
People have to get to work. Maybe they don't have public transit where they are, or maybe they just don't feel like sitting next to smelly commuters, but for whatever reason, here in the U.S. they drive their cars.The average American weighs about 180 lbs. Due to our love affair with SUVs, the average American car weighs over 2 tons and climbing. That means every time a person drives a single-occupancy vehicle to work, they aren't just expending the energy it takes to move 180 lbs 15 miles. They're also lugging around a hulking two-ton chunk of steel and plastic. The passenger of the average single-occupancy vehicle is…

The French Paradox

According to the World Health Organization, 82 out of every 100,000 French men between ages 35 and 74 died as a result of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the year 2000. In that same year, 216 out of 100,000 men between the same ages in the U.S. succumbed to the same disease.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, during roughly the same time period, the average French person ate slightly more total fat and almost three times more animal fat than the average American. Animal fats came from dairy, lard, red meats, fish and poultry, and contributed to a much higher overall saturated fat intake in the French. This has been called the "French paradox", the paradox being that saturated fat is supposed to cause CVD.

Researchers have been scrambling to identify the factor that is protecting French hearts from the toxic onslaught of saturated fat. What could possibly be preventing the buttery sludge coursing through their arteries from killing them on the sp…

Real Food II: Vinaigrette

Store-bought salad dressing is a crime against humanity.

'Ranch', '1000 Island' and other industrial monstrosities are a good way to put yourself underground in a hurry. From bottom-rung oils to artificial preservatives, they contain some of the most frightening ingredients you're likely to see in a grocery store.

Homemade salad dressing is one of the simplest, tastiest and healthiest recipes I know. If made properly, it's creamy, light and flavorful.I consider it my civic duty to spread the word about homemade salad dressing, also known as vinaigrette.

For a medium-sized salad, put two tablespoons of vinegar into your empty salad bowl. Add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of dijon mustard. Add three tablespoons of olive oil and stir until it's creamy and homogenous. That's it! Add your salad, toss and enjoy. The tossing is essential.

I always use extra-virgin olive oil. My favorite vinegar is unpasteurized, unfiltered apple cider vinegar. You may add ga…


During the 1940s and 50s, an Austrian psychologist named Konrad Lorenz studied the behavioral patterns of geese.

One of the things he observed was the egg-retrieving behavior of the greylag goose. When an egg rolls out of a goose's nest, it gently uses its bill to roll it back in. However, when Lorenz took an egg from the nest and placed it next to a larger round white object, the goose preferentially rolled the larger object back into its nest while ignoring the real egg. He called this larger object asuperstimulus. It was an abnormally strong stimulus that was able to hijack the bird's normal behavioral pattern in a maladaptive way.

Our brains are wired to respond to the stimuli with which they evolved. For example, our natural taste preferences tell us that fruit is good. But what happens when we concentrate that sugar tenfold? We get a superstimulus. Our brains are not designed to process that amount of stimulation constructively, and it often leads to a loss of cont…

Real Food I: Soup Stock

Making soup stock is a common practice in cultures throughout the world. It's a way of maximizing the value, nutrition and flavor of foods that are not always abundant. It's particularly relevant in the 21st century, when it's important to make the most of animal products that have a large environmental footprint.

The simplest way to make stock is to keep a "stock bag" in the freezer. Keep two plastic freezer bags (or whatever container you prefer) in the freezer, ready to accept food scraps whenever you have them. One is for vegetable scraps such as carrot peels, onion skins (not the brown part!), radish tops, etc. The other is for animal scraps such as bones, fish heads/tails, gristle, etc.

These are examples of vegetable scraps that are appropriate for stock:

Vegetable peels
Carrot ends
Onion scraps
Wilted greens
Asparagus stems

These are examples of animal products that are good for stock:

Fish heads/tails
Chicken feet
Parmesan rinds (thanks Debs!)


Reclaiming Food

We, as individuals, are gradually losing control of our food.

For the majority of human existence, we have been in more or less full control of food preparation. We roasted our own meat, churned our own butter, and stewed our own vegetables. Gradually, mostly over the course of the last hundred years, we have ceded this control to others.

People in industrialized nations now rely on processed food and restaurants for the majority of our diet. Our food has been outsourced, and it's killing us.

The problem is that the incentives of individuals are different from the incentives of restaurants and corporations. The individual cares about the enjoyment and healthfulness of food. The corporation and restaurant care about money. It's not a conspiracy against our health, it's just a difference of motivation.

This explains why processed food is so unhealthy. Is a food manufacturer going to use butter or dirt-cheap hydrogenated soybean oil in that cookie if you can't tell…

Genetics and Disease

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the role of genetics in health. It seems like every day the media have a new story about gene X or Y 'causing' obesity, diabetes or heart disease. There are some diseases that are strongly and clearly linked to a gene, such as the disease I study: spinocerebellar ataxia type 7. I do not believe that genetics are the cause of more than a slim minority of health problems however. Part of this is a semantic issue. How do you define the word 'cause'? It's a difficult question, but I'll give you an example of my reasoning and then we'll come back to it. A classic and thoroughly studied example of genetic factors in disease can be found in the Pima indians of Arizona. Currently, this population eats a version of the American diet, high in refined and processed foods. It also has the highest prevalence of type II diabetes of any population on earth (much higher than the US average), and a very high rate of obesity. …


Yes, I'm finally diving headfirst into blog-land. Welcome to the blog section of Whole Health Source.

This blog will be a collection of my thoughts on health, food, the environment, science, wholesome living and whatever else captures my interest.

Maybe this will help me stop clogging up other blogs' comment pages.

C 2008