Mendo Island Journal — Timely. Useful. Sometimes Cranky.

Good Calories, Bad Calories

In Books on November 9, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Mendocino County

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. ~ Plato

This is a review of a book that Michael Pollen has described as “A vitally important book, destined to change the way we think about food.” Alternative medicine guru Andrew Weil, M.D., called it “A very important book.” Yet, it is an investigated report of intimidating depth, 609 pages including the index, that sadly I doubt most of you will ever read. I only try below to give you a softer tour of a few of the high points to tempt you. The book is Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health, Anchor Books, 2007. Taubes not only describes the expected results of various diets, but at least as importantly I believe, recounts a pertinent allegory of our times, of how easily we can be manipulated to our and the Earth’s detriment.

Nearly thirty years ago, I was experiencing a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms that became more worrisome over time. So began a wandering from physician to physician, specialist to specialist, seeking relief. One night, after ten years or so and a dozen physicians, I was in terrible distress and Marlene somehow or another got me to an emergency facility. The admitting nurse thought I was drunk and treated me accordingly. Fortunately, the young attending physician performed a blood test, noted that my blood sodium level was dangerously low, and called my current and twelfth physician. I had just changed physicians and my new one had performed extensive blood tests, with no result. However, when he heard about the sodium problem, he ordered me to go to a nearby endocrinologist as soon as possible the next morning. The endocrinologist subsequently performed one test, declared I had Addison’s Disease, gave me a huge cortisol shot, prescribed taking equally massive doses of cortisol replacement tablets, and ordered me to return in, I recall, three days.

It was winter in the Bay Area. To get me to the emergency room and the endocrinologist, Marlene had shoved an overcoat over my pajamas and an old hat on my head. I arrived at each shaking uncontrollably, unshaven, and leaning on a cane. The following evening, I was filled with energy, couldn’t sleep, and spent the entire night cooking. The next day, we walked miles on the beach. When we subsequently returned to the endocrinologist’s office, he asked his nurses if they recognized me. None did. Thinking back, I must have appeared to be twenty years younger. This miraculous recovery, we later found, was typical for Addison’s Disease sufferers upon first taking cortisol replacement.

My new physician, an internal medicine specialist, had several Addison’s patients and immediately understood what the low sodium reading implied. Previous physicians had also seen these, but only complemented me that I needn’t worry about consuming too much salt. So, I salt my food, which has no discernable effect on my low blood pressure. Indeed, as Taubes describes and I discovered in my searches, there are no substantial scientific studies that definitively link excess salt consumption with high blood pressure and quite a few found no relationship. This is just one of many “old physicians’ tales” that he punctures.

As you likely know, cortisol is a hormone secreted by adrenal glands attached to the kidneys. It has many metabolic functions in the body, importantly for cooling down acute immune system responses resulting from infections or stress. Without cortisol, the immune system may literally consume the body, which is part of what was happening to me. Another function is to regulate blood sodium, which is necessary if nerves are to respond. Yet others are muscle building and regulation of fat storage; I was shrinking away. Because different cortisol blood levels are needed depending upon what is happening in the body and life stresses, replacement amounts prescribed are left to the oversight of the patients. Body awareness is crucial.

I have two reasons for telling you this story. Firstly, Addison’s Disease is one of many multi-symptom disorders, including some resulting from diet as you shall see, that are very hard to diagnose because physicians specialize and most don’t/can’t see entire pictures. Secondly, during the time of the search and subsequently, both Marlene and I immersed ourselves in the medical literature attempting to understand. She had a medical technology license and I had previously taken anatomy and physiology courses, so the medical literature didn’t frighten us. After I had been diagnosed, I took a premedical human anatomy and physiology sequence, complete with cadaver, to better take control of my own health.

We’ve been natural food nuts forever, mostly cooked our own meals using the freshest ingredients we could find, and grew our own whenever possible. So, you’d have thought we would have been smarter in selecting our diet. Somewhere along the line, we had acquired a copy of “How to Eat Well and Stay Well: the Mediterranean Way” by Ancel and Margaret Keys. The science seemed to be solid and we found the Mediterranean region and cultures attractive. Consequently, sometime in the early nineties this became our customary diet.

As the Keys described it, saturated fats in particular and fats in general, except for olive oil, are the scourges of health. Since meats, eggs, and dairy contain saturated fat, consumption of each is to be minimized. This, we were told, was typical of Mediterranean diets and those relying on them were remarkably healthy. One after another health-related organizations, such as notably the American Heart Association with its Heart-Healthy Diet, had jumped aboard.

In the following years, we each gained more and more weight. Something had to be done. The low-carbohydrate diet as promoted by Robert Atkins, M.D., was then popular, but deeply maligned by the medical and nutritional establishments as dangerously unhealthy. Still, in the late sixties I’d quit smoking and my weight had soared, which I’d successfully addressed with a high-steak diet promoted by someone or another. Before undertaking an Atkins style diet, I wanted to understand the downsides. At that time, we found ourselves in San Diego. I obtained access to the UCSD medical library and the on-line searchable list of medical research paper abstracts and began digging. I also added a collection of medical texts to our library. I had a fair understanding of the physiological and biochemical prerequisites, so the going wasn’t terribly difficult. Amazingly, I couldn’t find any solid research negating Dr. Atkins’ ideas and much that supported him. One of the most intriguing articles, a long review in the journal Science, wasn’t written by a research scientist but by a science journalist, which is practically unheard of; the proper citation: Taubes G (2001) The soft science of dietary fat. Science 291:2536-45. Science, the leading scientific research journal in the U.S., is the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

We undertook a low-carb diet as outlined by Dr. Atkins and quickly began to lose weight. In spite of consuming many eggs, much butter and full-fat cheeses, and pounds of pork in addition to other meats, I have maintained the weight loss over the past ten years. Astonishingly, our cholesterol and fat (triglyceride) blood profiles also improved well within acceptable ranges, which is what medical research predicted would happen. None of the deadly side effects described by the authorities appeared. Something decidedly suspicious was going on. Taubes’ Science article gave more than a hint, as did his later one in the New York Times, July 7, 2002, entitled “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?”.

But, wait, if one eats fats, especially in excess, won’t one get fat. What about all those fatty plaques blocking one’s arteries? Surely consuming cholesterol-rich foods will raise blood cholesterol levels? Isn’t this just two and two make four? Aren’t those living around the Mediterranean healthier? The answer to the last question is yes, but the Spanish and Italians eat lots of fatty pork sausages, lamb, and cheese and Greeks thrive on fatty sheep’s cheese and flesh. The so-called French diet is similar, except it is stretched with lots of eggs. On the other side of the world, the Japanese consume large amounts of cholesterol-rich seafood, but traditionally haven’t had high blood cholesterol or heart problems. There is something decidedly wrong with that calculation.

Thanks to the Cold War, the second half of the twentieth century physics and chemistry research and associated technologies broke the bank, while biological research starved. That began to change in the eighties with the promise of the new genetics. In 1990, George Bush Sr. declared the Bioscience Decade, money pored into biotechnological research, and the number of graduates exploded. It was expected that once the genetic code had been broken, solutions to cancer, schizophrenia, muscular dystrophy, aging, and many other such disorders would quickly follow. By 2000, the human genetic code had been broken as had that of many other organisms. The expectation had been that our DNA would be shown to have 100,000 genes. In fact, we each gave about 25,000, fewer than a sea urchin’s and many less than rice’s 38,000. Further, our genetic code is practically indistinguishable from that of a chimpanzee. But, while the code appears to be much simpler than supposed, gene functions and even their definition are being recognized as greatly complex and mysterious. As a result, biotechnology’s promise has dwindled – with the exception of Monsanto’s GMO finagling and the associated green revolution boondoggles. Yet, the number of bioscience research papers, especially in biochemically-saturated cellular microbiology, have exploded to the point that many thousands are published each month and libraries are overflowing with journals, especially those dedicated to medical research. The bad news is that the field is buried in undigested data; the good news is that fat and sugar metabolisms are understood in exacting detail. The problem confronting those who would make use of this information is in digging it out of the journals and integrating it. Gary Taubes, who has spent over a decade distilling this as it applies to our diets, is an investigative journalist par excellence who is the only print journalist to have won three Society Journalism awards given by the National Association of Science Writers.

Papers in medical research journals are almost entirely two types: They are either reports of surveys correlating some behavior of some collection of people or other animals with some medically significant measurement. Or, they are biochemical-laden descriptions of cellular mechanisms. As an example of the first, a immense Nurses study extending over decades explored the link between breast cancer and consuming fats – and found none. As one of the second, the biochemical pathways are well mapped as to how it is that when carbohydrates are consumed, any excess is converted to saturated fat that is subsequently stored in adipose, i.e. fatty, tissue – even if no fats are eaten.

The problem with interpreting surveys is that the statistics is very tricky to get right, that is to the point that they are not seen as somehow biased. So, too often surveys appear to contradict each other. If a survey supports one’s point of view, it is declared solid; if not, it often is waved away as surely bogus. Thus, survey battles are the rule, no matter how massive or detailed they may be. The ideal is that if there is contention, more and more carefully crafted surveys should be run. Often this has happened, with no resolution of disagreement. A case on point: many extensive surveys and carefully planned experiments have been performed over the past century certifying that extrasensory perception experiences do happen, yet most scientists doubt, when they don’t view them with alarm, and supporting papers rarely appear in major refereed journals.

Cellular metabolism is immensely complex and only partially mapped with biochemical pathways. Still, many key pathways, i.e. series of biochemical reactions, are now well understood. However, as Dr. Andrew Weil is fond of noting, while every physician must have passed a biochemistry course while in college, they almost immediately forgot the subject. It simply isn’t relevant to their day-to-day job. Even if they remember the chemistry, they seldom have the spare time to dig through the research paper glut published each year. Consequently, they seldom if ever read journal articles. Rather, physicians trust professional medical organizations’ policies to provide guidance. Alas, if working physicians are out of touch, this is even more true of those who have risen in the ranks of administrators, those who determine policies.

Ideally, no scientific research is ever finished. It is always subject to being questioned and revised as more knowledge becomes available. Because of the huge complexity of the subject, medical science should be undergoing continual change. In fact, conventional practice is very conservative. Physicians don’t have the time to continually be going to school. Administrators face another barrier; once they have established a policy and it has been broadcast to the world, any admission that it might be wrong would be devastating to their self-esteem and others would doubt their advice. Thus, for the American Diabetes Society to declare that excessive carbohydrate consumption causes diabetes and urge restraint seems to be impossible, even though most other diabetes organizations around the world have changed direction.

In the first part of his book, Taubes documents the history of how the (low) saturated fat/cholesterol thesis became imbedded in organizational policies prior to supporting (if any) biomedical research being performed. He documents the large numbers of surveys and biochemical research reports that cast doubt on these policies, but they aren’t changing. As has been increasingly documented in other scientific areas as well, this institutional intransigence is not unexpected.

Typically, old paradigms are only overthrown or superseded as authorities die. An illustrative tale: Until the early seventh century, the European medical establishment believed, following the ancient Greek anatomist Galen’s interpretation, that the heart’s one purpose was to heat the blood (and the brain’s to cool it). In 1628, British physician William Harvey recognized the heart was, instead, a pump. Yet, for decades thereafter medical authorities across Europe ridiculed his idea and asserted they could not hear a heart beat or feel a pulse.

The much more solid evidence supporting the (low) carbohydrate thesis is detailed in the second part of this work. There are no biochemical formulas in the book, but otherwise all the meat – so to speak – is there. On a high carbohydrate diet, one’s cells mostly use the simple sugar glucose derived from those carbohydrates for energy; as noted above, any excess glucose is converted to fat. The rate at which glucose enters a cell is regulated by insulin. Fructose, fruit sugar, is also utilized by cells for energy, with excess being converted to fat. However, fructose crosses cell boundaries without insulin regulation and excessive amounts within a cell have damaging results.

As Dr. Atkins understood, if one consumes few carbohydrates, one’s cells switch to fats as primary energy source. One’s liver cells consume only fat directly in either case, often most of that which we consume. For other cells, the situation is more complicated. There, when one is on a low carbohydrate diet, fatty acids (the basic constituents of fats) are converted to molecules called ketones. Cells throughout the body can utilize ketones for energy purposes nearly exactly as are glucose and fructose. However, ketones are never converted to fat and, unlike sugars, excess amounts are dumped into the urine. In the absence of insulin resulting from carbohydrate consumption, fatty acids are never stored in adipose tissue; you can’t get fat by eating too much fat, if you aren’t consuming it with carbohydrates. In other words, contrary to the usual dictum, it isn’t the calories, stupid, it’s the simple carbs. If you are really intent on getting the biochemical details, I suggest the accessible book Metabolism at a Glance by J.G. Salway. There is one small problem with a low-carbohydrate diet: fat burns more slowly than sugars, so the diet is far from ideal for one hundred yard dash racers.

What about saturated fat? There is no solid biochemical research that has found any problem with saturated fats. With the polyunsaturated ones, such as found in Canola, soy, and corn oil for instance, there are problems. Some foundation: a fat molecule consists of a chain of simple fatty acids, each of which consists of a string of twelve carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms hooked to the head, tail, and along the sides like a caterpillar. If some of the hydrogen feet are missing, a fatty acid is said to be unsaturated; i.e. saturated fatty acids have all their feet. Oleic acid, the principle one in olive oil, is missing two feet; simple omega 3 fatty acids are missing three; simple omega 6 fatty acids, which are the principle fats in vegetable oils, are missing six. Together with saturated fatty acids, in addition to being used for energy production and fat accumulation, these three are utilized throughout the body in structures, mainly connected in long chains.

Oxygen is required for the body’s production of energy. In the process, certain oxygen atoms are modified so as to become highly reactive. Such atoms, when reacting with iron in the outer world, cause rust. In the body, they very actively link to many other types of molecules, in the process rendering them inactive. It is said these damaged molecules have been oxidized. For example, hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in the blood stream, may readily be oxidized and disabled, so starving the body of oxygen and leading to weakness and shortness of breath. An important source of reactive oxygen atoms results from the burning of simple sugars, particularly glucose. Hence, the value of antioxidants that, hopefully, sweep up reactive oxygen.

Those places where unsaturated fatty acids are missing hydrogen legs are prone to be linked and so damaged by oxygen atoms. When a fat has been oxidized outside the body, it is termed rancid. Quite naturally, omega 6 fatty acids are the most likely to be oxidatively damaged since they are missing so many legs. On the other hand, saturated fats are immune. Within the body, fatty acids are transported through the bloodstream in the form of triglycerides attached to lipoproteins, the same lipoproteins (LDL and HDL) that transport cholesterol. When a fatty acid attached to a lipoprotein becomes oxidized, the entire lipoprotein becomes non-functional junk floating around in the blood. By a couple of more steps about which I won’t tell you, the damaged lipoproteins, complete with their loads of fatty acids and cholesterol, get plastered on arterial walls as soft plaque; this may eventually block the vessel and cause a heart attach or stroke. Since cholesterol was early recognized as present in this plaque, it was designated as the villain; but, it was and is an innocent bystander. In summary, the real villains are unsaturated fats damaged as a result of consuming simple carbohydrates.

Cancers result from damaged genetic material, one cause of which may be oxidation. Typically, cancer cells are so dysfunctional that they lose their abilities to metabolize fats or to utilize more complex sugar energy generation pathways. Thus, they rely on simple sugars for fuel; lots of sugar. It has been argued that under an extremely low carbohydrate regimen, many cancers will starve.

A Maillard reaction is a particular type of chemical reaction between simple sugars and lysine containing proteins. Such reactions create the browning in roasted and grilled meats, breads and other bakery products, dry cereals, beers, and nuts, notably carbohydrate-rich nuts such as peanuts, among other foods. Breakdown products of such reactions supply many of the sensory aspects, taste and smell, of these foods that we love — witness the difference between raw cookie dough and well-baked browned cookies. Alas, while metamorphosing into these wonderful metabolites, the original protein becomes something else that the body no longer recognizes as digestible.

Until the last decade, it was thought that Maillard reactions only happened when considerable heat was applied. It was then discovered that many of our aging characteristics were actually the results of Maillard reactions. Our bodies rely on many complex proteins both for building materials, muscles, and as enzymes that promote metabolic reactions; these may be disabled by Maillard reactions. Instances where such reactions have been recognized include the stiffening and browning of skin, formation of cataracts, and stiffening of artery walls, lungs, and joints. Collagens are notably endangered, because they are expected to last a lifetime; collagen fibers hold our tissues, our bodes, together! Maillard products have been found in atherosclerosis, Alzheimer, and similar plaques. Lipoproteins that have undergone Maillard reactions are much more likely to become oxidized and deposited in atherosclerotic plaques.

Beginning in the sixties, Stanford medical professor Gerald Reaven noticed that a variety of symptom clusters were often associated. These clusters included heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides, low HDL and high LDL cholesterol, high blood sugar, chronic inflammatory distress and consequent high levels of blood cortisol, stroke, and arguably many of the signs of aging. By the late eighties, he named the combined disorder Syndrome X and linked it to high consumption of simple carbohydrates. How is that for a multi-symptom disorder with simple cure? Should at least some cancers be included? His science was widely accepted, but not his dietary conclusions.

There are many other effects related to this syndrome. Excessive cortisol secretion weakens bones; they sort of melt away. Maybe worse, cortisol magnifies the release of insulin by several times than otherwise would be expected. On the other hand, as previously noted, insulin also promotes cortisol secretion leading to a positive feedback loop promoting obesity. Disproportionate cortisol suppresses serotonin expression, presumably resulting in feelings of depression; it also suppresses memory functions while enhancing emotional responses. Consequent feelings of hostility, anger, worthlessness, pessimism, restraint, low esteem, hopelessness, helplessness, loneliness, isolation, fear, panic, and loss of control are all associated with excessive cortisol secretion. The links go on and on.

I haven’t told you what is meant by a simple carbohydrate or starch, the terms are interchangeable. Carbohydrates, that is starches, consist of simple sugars, e.g. glucose and fructose, linked into a some tree arrangement or another. The simplest arrangement, a single string, is easily broken down in our small intestines into its simple sugars. This is what is meant by a simple carbohydrate. Cereal grains, notably wheat, and potatoes provide examples that primarily consist of simple carbohydrates. Thus, consuming a simple carbohydrate is equivalent to consuming the same weight in sugar. Those with more complex tree arrangements may only be partially broken down and pass through the small intestine to feed bacteria in the large one. Bean carbohydrates are generally complex. Dry wheat pasta is higher in complex starches because in the process of drying simple carbohydrates are converted to complex ones; in the trade, this is known as staling with a long ‘a’ as in stale bread. Though two carbohydrates may supposedly have the same caloric value, in actual fact many of the calories in complex carbohydrates aren’t available. This recognition led to the definition of the glycemic index of a carbohydrate.

When simple sugars enter the blood stream, the body secretes insulin to permit them to cross cell boundaries. Blood insulin levels rise to a plateau and remain there until the blood sugar level falls, ordinarily after only an hour or two. Thus, measurement of insulin levels provides insight into blood sugar levels and is simple to perform. Given two carbohydrate sources, one simple and the other complex, each of the same amount of calories, consuming the first will raise insulin levels much longer. A carbohydrate is defined to be low or high glycemic depending upon whether associated insulin levels are maintained high for a short or long time. With the exception of the American one, diabetic associations around the world advocate low glycemic diets. Glycemic tables are widely available that list most common foods.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, our per capita intake of refined sugar is almost 150 pounds a year. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) accounts for 51.7 pounds of that, and sucrose (a combination of glucose and fructose) for 64.5 pounds. High consumption levels of sugar is of very recent vintage; only with the perfection of sugar refining from beets and corn in the twentieth century did it become cheap enough for general use. Prior to this, it was largely used as a spice or consumed in fruit or honey. Fructose accounts for only 5 to 7.7 percent of the wet weight of cherries, pears, bananas, grapes, and apples. That’s about 5.5 to 8 teaspoons per pound of fresh fruit. There’s even less fructose – 2 to 3 percent, or roughly 2 to 3 teaspoons per pound – in strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, oranges, and grapefruit, all of which are low glycemic. Honey, refined by bees, contains 40 percent fructose, but its extreme sweetness deters most people from consuming it in large amounts. Note again that simple carbohydrates become sugars, usually a combination of glucose and fructose, once they are digested – there is no difference between consuming a cup of simple starch and a cup of sugar. Also note that a baked potato is mostly simple starch.

A project for you: go into any grocery of your choice – it hardly matters whether it claims to be natural or not – and walk up and down the isles noting those products based upon simple carbohydrates. Include all the chips, cookies, breads, crackers, and other baked products, cereals, pastas, bags of sugar, flours, and rice, cake mixes, puddings and pudding mixes, candies, syrups, jams, and jellies, cans of fruit in syrup, and fruit juices. Consider all those “convenience” items in the freezer cases. Don’t forget those soda drinks. ice creams, and other products that are heavily sweetened. Include polyunsaturated vegetable oils and beers and liquors, which are mostly derived from grains (and soy and Canola). Finally, include meats and dairy products produced from grain- (and soy-) fed livestock. In a world without cereal grains, sugar beets, and potatoes, the modern grocery would shrink to a tiny fraction of its present size. We Americans rely on simple carbohydrates. They are the bulwarks of agribusiness. And, we wonder why we are obese.

For Americans, it wasn’t until the development of the steel moldboard plow and mechanized harvesting equipment in the later nineteenth century that grains (as well as potatoes and sugar beets) became cheap and available enough to begin playing their present dominant role. As Taubes describes, prior to the beginning of the twentieth century, most Americans subsisted primarily on meats and other animal products for all their meals. So, they must have been unhealthy and short lived? In fact, as Taubes writes and I’ve verified from research into my own ancestry, most lived into their seventies, eighties, and nineties while enjoying hard working, vigorous lives – if they didn’t die from an accident or childbirth. Most lived in rural areas, largely provided for themselves, and had vestigial medical care if any. Other scientists found that hunter/gatherers typically consumed large amounts of saturated fats, yet also often lived long healthy lives. There is little evidence any suffered from Syndrome X. It was only with the arrival of cheap simple carbohydrates that human lifespans were drastically shortened. This would remain so today, except that physicians keep those with heart disease, diabetes, and so forth alive with drastic interventions and pharmaceuticals – which is why modern medical care is so expensive.

As Taubes describes so well, our society is suffering from a massive multi-symptom disorder, one based on diet. There is an extremely well understood smoking gun: the consumption of excess simple carbohydrates. The personal solution is so simple, but if everyone followed a low glycemic diet and cut out all those other questionable foods and drinks that are derived from simple carbohydrates, the economy would surely crumble.

There are other stories here as well. When the FDA was considering whether soy products should be given GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status, several of its scientist argued that soy’s female hormone emulation had been demonstrated in their experiments to be dangerous. Nonetheless, at the urging of agribusiness, the FDA approved. Subsequently, while babies are being raised on soy formulas, research scientists are linking these female hormone emulators to childhood male obesity and early female puberty. Many are stressing over these, but never connecting, seemingly refusing to connect, the dots.

So, Marlene and I were following Keys’ recommendations, basing our diet primarily on carbohydrates, polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and soy to round out our protein requirements. We also took thousands of milligrams of antioxidant vitamin C every day. And, our healths were declining. But, we were just doing what the medical and nutritional authorities were advising us. As we were to discover, Atkins and others promoting low carbohydrate diets had found the solution, one without any notable untoward side effects, which is something pharmaceutical companies can’t claim. Nonetheless, authorities are still disputing and physicians continue to worry about salt, cholesterol, and saturated fats. Incidentally, my current physician, an internal medicine specialist, is the best personal doctor I’ve ever had and never bothers me with such quibbles.

It is not unusual that when someone first hears this story, they wonder what other than animal products can they eat. Not to worry: consume all the green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, squash, fresh fruit, onions, leeks, and garlic, beans (no soy) and lentils, carrots, and nuts (other than cashews and excessive peanuts) you can stuff in your mouth. Use as much olive oil, butter, and lard as you like – oh, no! Add occasional carbs not as fillers, but adjuncts: corn bread and tortillas prepared using heritage, so-called Indian, corn, waxy potatoes, long grain rice, dry pasta, rolled oats, barley, quinoa, and buckwheat as well as well soured crusty sourdough bread, all of which are somewhat low glycemic. Choose meat, dairy, and poultry products derived from animals raised on grass, which will be high in omega 3 fatty acids. Don’t stint on the eggs and cheese. Or, you can easily be vegetarian, as in the Indian style, by including dairy products to assure sufficient balanced protein. You may even blow the diet once in awhile with a few cookies or a birthday cake. As the French have demonstrated, a glass of wine wouldn’t hurt. What’s not to like? In fact, a high carb obsession is easy to break – if you cook yourself and learn how to combine and season your food.

I began by telling you that this tale is a allegory of our times. Not just in diets, but throughout our lifestyles, we are kowtowing to authorities who themselves are clinging to ideas that were shown by extensive scientific research years ago to be dangerous nonsense. This is just human nature; radical change opens the door to perhaps dangerous unknowns. Who can predict? The devil you know, …. Anyhow, a person can only remain up to date with a tiny fraction of current scientific knowledge, which is always in flux while we seldom notice – we stick with what we think we know. This is true even though or because we may be expert specialists in some narrow field.

Physicians are particularly constrained – because medical textbooks take so long to write and publish, they are several years out of date by the time students purchase them, even more so by the time graduating physicians begin practicing. In addition, as Dr. Andrew Weil notes, physicians almost never are exposed to nutrition courses. But, be warmed: nutritional authorities are heavily financed by agribusiness and are as untrustworthy. They also have seemly forgotten their biochemistry; none of the above is in disagreement with anything in the two major nutritional biochemistry texts – Tom Brody’s Nutritional Biochemistry and Martha Stipanuk’s Biochemical and Physiological Aspects of Human Nutrition, each of which is huge and both of which are on my bookshelf.

I conclude from my personal experiences detailed above and gleaning understanding from wherever I can that we each must take personal responsibility for our health – and that of our planet – which can be no small effort. The human species and Mother Gaia itself are on the verge of plunging off the cliff in many directions – another multi-symptom syndrome with an apparent etiology that authorities refuse to acknowledge. Much of the damage our environment is undergoing is a consequence of intensive cereal grain, soy, sugar beet, and Canola cultivation, the gigantic livestock and dairy factories that rely on grain and soy, and the processing and distribution system needed to deliver these products to our tables – all massively dependent upon petroleum. Whether these industrial products are organic or not is irrelevant to the issue at hand. Solution? In the case of our diets and arguably much else, I much recommend reading prize-winning science journalist Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories as a place to start.

  1. Thanks to our daughter-in-law, Bill and I long ago made the same discovery about diet, i.e., real fats are good for you, fakey fats are not. Real fats come from grass fed meats, cheese from grass fed cows or goats, and eggs from pastured hens.

    Most of the information is in the book entitled The Schwarzbein Principle and there are additional books by the author, also named Schwarzbein.

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