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January 20, 2009

Food and Eating Linkage

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Stephan thinks you'd do well to pass up the margarine and help yourself to some good-quality butter instead.

* Richard Nikoley has found that eating more fat can cure food cravings.

* After years of packing on unwanted weight, Diana Hshieh gives up "healthy" low-fat eating, goes Paleo, and loses 15 pounds. Diana describes her new eating habits here.

* Mark Sisson has some thoughts about how many carbs you might want to be eating a day.

* Charles Washington does well on precisely zero carbs.

* Bill Kauffman celebrates North Carolina barbecue.

* Women may be less able than men are to suppress hunger pangs.



UPDATE: Jonny Bowden says that eating low-carb is guaranteed to bring your triglycerides down. Worked for me, and in fairly dramatic fashion.

posted by Michael at January 20, 2009


Some years ago my niece gave me a copy of White Trash Cooking. Instant delight. I've since learned that it's very well known in the US, so I'll give it no introductions. The extraordinary photos were especially moving because the structures and scenery are so similar to what we have here in the Macleay Valley of NSW.

Yet what I most loved was the ease of transition from road-kill fried in bacon-fat to tinned food from brutal corporations; from molasses and drippin' to Campbell's Soup and "Cocola". I first read the book when fat-fears were at their all-time peak, and carb-phobia was just beginning to dawn for for the fretful classes. (The posh people were learning to interrogate the Sichuan waiters: Are you absolutely sure those noodles are Low GI?)

What a tonic to read a book where Carnation Milk and oleo might tumble into the same pot as fresh okra and alligator tail. The absence of fear and fetishism! The lust for flavour!

Maybe if we scrape away Kauffman's angry dogmatism, he's an okay guy who likes a good feed with friends. But we don't need a ranting mullah on a search for the purity of localism, trying to live within a mock-up provincialism while publishing his fulminations on the World Wide Web and listening to money-bags Dylan courtesy of a global corporation.

What we do need is some of that White Trash Cooking, maybe Father Bob Landry's Shrimp and Eggplant Casserole. ("They got more, cher!") And if someone wants to wash it down with Coca Cola or imported beer, we should be enjoying ourselves too much to give a bugger.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on January 20, 2009 7:51 AM

It would be so much better, in my not so humble opinion, if the normal thickening which is the lot of most men and women as they age would just be accepted. Think of the lessening of anxiety concerning something that is inevitable and cannot be defeated. Does anyone not fall off a diet? The body won't put up with being starved indefinitely. So you go through the last third of your life 10 pounds overweight. So what. And anyway, that's overweight according to the charts, not according to what nature ordains. And if nature ordains it maybe it's right, right?

Posted by: ricpic on January 20, 2009 8:54 AM

I for one am very happy to see that margarine is coming under increased criticism. It is a truly wretched "food" product that does not belong in human bodies.

Posted by: Peter on January 20, 2009 9:39 AM

Thanks for the mention, Michael.

And, looks like you're hitting just about all the right sites out there.

Posted by: Richard Nikoley on January 20, 2009 12:43 PM

The zero carb diet is just another starvation diet. Like the others, it works spectacularly well, in the short run.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on January 20, 2009 1:00 PM


"Think of the lessening of anxiety concerning something that is inevitable and cannot be defeated."

That's simply not true. While it was inevitable to me on a standard American diet (SAD) and walking 3.5 miles five days per week for 5 years and over 5,000 miles (I gained 30 pounds), it isn't any more. Moreover, I feel the best I have in my entire life, and I'm turning 48 next week.

Here's my transformation:


Plenty other stories just like mine, from people who discovered that, whoa, we're not well adapted to agricultural foods (grains, sugar, processed food, etc.) and that just by eating only meat, natural fats (animal, olive, coconut) fish, vegetables, fruits and nuts that we almost magically express genes that begin taking pounds off, reseting our hunger mechanisms so that we almost never experience the wall-climbing hunger we used to.

And BTW, if you were to dig in an study hunter-gatherer and other non-industrial populations that used to be (very few left), you will find a near complete absence of obesity, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, stroke, and other diseases of civilization.

It's simply not inevitable for people to go to seed.

Posted by: Richard Nikoley on January 20, 2009 1:00 PM

Thanks for the link! And butter definitely beats margarine any day of the weak (even the fancy 0-trans fat margarine).

Posted by: Mark Sisson on January 20, 2009 2:07 PM

"I for one am very happy to see that margarine is coming under increased criticism. It is a truly wretched "food" product that does not belong in human bodies."

No shit. That garbage was created as a substitute for butter in wartime. I'd consume it only if I was starving.

Posted by: Sweat Cream on January 20, 2009 3:09 PM

Texas 'cue, despite the claims of the book Kaufmann was reviewing, is considered by non-partisans to be the best. And that's beef, not pork.

By whom? By me, of course. Though I will also aver quite firmly that hogmeat is so damn good that you will have to take my pulled pork from my cold dead hand (there's no even remotely risque image in there, so give up right now). I've heard that burning human flesh smells more like barbecued pork than anything else. Which makes me think that perhaps cannibals are judged a mite too harshly for their, ah, gustatory, ah, habits.


Posted by: Patrick H(annibal) on January 20, 2009 4:36 PM

yoghurt from whole milk, clarified butter and lentils will keep you alive long.

Posted by: Ramesh on January 20, 2009 6:27 PM

Thanks for the links.

I started eating low carb five months ago after reading "Good Calories, Bad Calories" and I am simply amazed with how it changed me.
I was raised vegetarian and ate what I thought to be a very healthy diet. I ate lots of vegetable, whole grains, tofu etc. but my energy levels fluctuated between from painfully tired to an almost manic energy, I was hungry almost constantly and over the last ten years I had gained about 40 pounds.
In the last five months, I have a calm sustained level of energy that I have NEVER had in my life, my moods seem much better and I have effortlessly lost 20 pounds. Honestly though, I feel physically so much better that I would keep eating this way if I hadn't lost an ounce.
I even eat meat now which I never believed I would do. Right now, I am eating my first ever steak in my life and it is delicious.

Posted by: Tamala on January 20, 2009 7:18 PM

"And BTW, if you were to dig in an study hunter-gatherer and other non-industrial populations that used to be (very few left), you will find a near complete absence of obesity, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, stroke, and other diseases of civilization."

Yes, the Noble Savage must have had a healthy diet, he refuses to die.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on January 21, 2009 12:54 AM

Savages did and do have healthy diets. Pellagra, tooth decay, etc., are products of agriculture, in particular subsisting on a single cultivated staple like corn.

Posted by: agnostic on January 21, 2009 4:14 AM

Mr Nikoley, I have something to say about your recommendations for a low-carbohydrate diet, and the idea that we have evolved to eat fat and protein, that I think is worth considering.

First, it is that the "agricultural revolution" took place many thousands of years ago, and it is just possible that in agricultural regions, we might have evolved since then to adapt to the foods it made available to us. As this website will tell you, evolutionary biologists are coming to think that our evolution did not cease 10,000 years ago. (I don't know whether they have considered the implications of this for our diet; I'm just mentioning it as a possible factor in our evolution.)

Second, I believe from my own experience that it's after age 40 or so that carbohydrates begin to be problematic for modern men and women, and that prior to that, they are not much of a threat to any healthy person.

What experience? Well, when I was still a very young woman, very slender but obsessed with my weight, diet books were then still recommending high protein/low carb diets. So I tried many variations of these, and, in my 20s and early 30s, found that I could NOT eat without carbs. The attempt to do so left me feeling ravenous and irritable, even when I allowed myself more calories to make up for the lack of starches.

On the other hand, once I reached my 40s and wanted to lose a few pounds, I found that eating protein, fat, and veggies made it very easy to lose weight, and that I never suffered from any hunger pangs when I tried this diet.

It does seem possible that children and young people tolerate "good" carbs, like whole wheat, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and the like - and even, in small quantities, sugars and other low-quality carbs - better than older people do.

I know there are now many more young people suffering from Type II diabetes than there once were - but that may be because the sweets and potato chips and fast food that were once a rare treat have become dietary staples, not because these foods; still less whole-wheat pasta, bread or rice, are a near-equivalent to poison.

After all, though the much-praised Mediterranean diet contains a high proportion of vegetables, fruit, and fair amount of fat from olive oil, it also contains a high quantity of starch from bread and pasta, and uses meat more as a condiment than a dietary staple, depending on geography and the relative wealth of the region.

I'm not trying to pick holes in your argument in order to be difficult; I agree with much of what you say. I just think the issues involved are probably very complicated.


Posted by: alias clio on January 21, 2009 10:18 AM

> Yes, the Noble Savage must have had a healthy diet, he refuses to die.

Not much for shades of gray, eh? Not every observation of something good about pre-agricultural life is necessarily a moonbat idealization.

Posted by: Eric J. Johnson on January 21, 2009 11:48 AM

This is not about primitivism, Todd Fletcher.

It's about what is the nature of the human biological organism in light of millions of years of evolution vs. a 10,000 year relative spec in time, and, how ought such thinking condition our diet and how we go about maintaining a level of physical fitness.

Posted by: Richard Nikoley on January 21, 2009 12:26 PM

Sorry for the snark. I think this Paleo diet is interesting, I'm not knocking it. I've lost my own fear of fat and it's been beneficial. For example, I've been having a bowl of high quality whole milk yoghurt lately for breakfast and I've completely lost the post-lunch drowsiness that's plagued me for years.

But let's be frank, primitive men were usually dead by the age of 40, so I don't find claims about their lack of common present day conditions very compelling.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on January 21, 2009 12:48 PM

An add-on about youth and carbs:

In general, I find that the higher my energy output, the harder it is to get by without carbs, and sometimes a fair amount of them. I exercise a lot, sometimes quite intensely and for several days to weeks in a row. I find that my body seems to crave carbs after only a short time exercising this way, and not only because my increased need for fuel makes it harder to get that fuel from comparatively bulky sources. I seem to need carbs, period.

This is anecdote, to be sure, but the rapid restoration of glycogen reserves in order to permit new bouts of work (mental work too, I should add) is best accomplished by carb ingestion. This may explain why the young tolerate carbs more than the old--they need them to refuel their constantly (and rapidly) used-up glycogen reserves.

I'm not wedded to this POV--it is anecdotal and speculative--but my own declining energy outputs in my daily life as I've aged past 50 (no more hours of compulsive pacing each day for example--where did I get the energy to do that?) with concomitant lower needs for carb refueling, seem to support clio's point about youth and carb "tolerance".

It may be a question of carbs having an optimal context as fuel for very high energy output physical activity--a use that's only occasionally justified in the lifestyles of very low energy output adults.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 21, 2009 2:39 PM

I will never give up carbs. Never.

*I don't think of foods as good foods or bad foods. I just think I shouldn't eat too much, and try and eat 'quality' (you know, home cooked, lots of fruit and veg). Sigh, it's work that gets late, eat in hospital cafe. Yikers!

Posted by: onparkstreet on January 21, 2009 4:14 PM

Not that I have any knowledge or expertise ... But I'm betting that, where eating/health/etc go, there's no one optimal way of eating, and that lots of different variables will emerge: racial, age-related, familial, and probably more. All that said, down with packaged foods, and up with fresh ones.

FWIW, one of the big virtues of the Paleo/Primal/"Real Foods"/low-carb world at the moment, as far as I'm concerned, is that they're being so effective at blowing apart the low-fat/high-carb official dogma. Is the Paleo/Primal/low-carb thing the final word about anything? I doubt it, though they do seem to have a lot to contribute. But I'm awfully glad they're toppling over the official party line. It's quite incredible how wrong the official party line has been, and how destructive. (Though, I suppose, maybe eating Dean Ornish-style may work for a few ...)

And, being a mischievous cultureblogger, I'm not shy about analogizing the official line on diet to the official line on art, lit, and architecture. All of them deserve to be blown to smithereens, IMHO. They've been limiting, misguided, misleading, and often destructive. Do-gooding, exploitative elites and powerful interests are aligned behind them, and they don't serve the rest of us at all well. (Corporate ag and food and medicine gets rich, the rest of us develop diabetes and struggle with weight-related frustrations ...)

I'd extend the analogy to politics and econ too, but then I'd be moving 'way outside any expertise I might have again ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 21, 2009 5:01 PM

Looking at what Clio and Patrick have to say, I'm in broad agreement. In my case, a need for plenty of protein has been a constant, even in youth. A starchier, cheaper diet after leaving home was not good. And when I got sucked into the high-carb diet during my virtuous and athletic thirties...that was a mistake also. Certainly, with age it becomes more of an issue.

With a good base of protein, the rest seems to be self-regulating. Protein, especially early in the day, is my only conscious dietary imposition. Fat is neither here nor there, except that I like it. Cholesterol is like phlogiston, lit-crit or global warming: worthy only of my ignorance.

The rest is pleasure and appetite and whatever-comes-along. An example: The other day, one of the local young ladies, insisted, very emphatically, that I join her in a specially chilled Coke for her eighteenth birthday. (It would seem she's an expert in chilling Coke. Aluminium essential!) Anyway, it was delicious. I'll have another one with her next year, when the bossy little sophisticate turns nineteen.

I suppose things would change if I stopped exercising, but why would I do that? Also, my hobby is puerh, compressed and ageable tea, which they tell me is capable of doing all sorts of wonders for the body. Maybe that's helping, but I just drink buckets of it because I love its bitter-sweet earthiness and endless variety.

Anyway, the Clio/Patrick nexus has summed it up pretty effectively for me.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on January 21, 2009 5:53 PM


"primitive men were usually dead by the age of 40"

Actually, that's simply an average, and that average is brought down by high infant mortality, pathogenic illness, accident, and just brutal nature in general.

However, it is well documented that hunter-gatherers and other non-industrial peoples living on traditional diets, who manage to avoid the harshness of brute nature live well into the 80s, 90s and beyond. (and they don't get the diseases of civilization). So, for me, it's about getting the best of both.

Patrick H:

"...but the rapid restoration of glycogen reserves in order to permit new bouts of work (mental work too, I should add) is best accomplished by carb ingestion."

While it's true that the body can more rapidly take up carbs for energy than fat (or even protein), I have done a great deal of personal experimentation over the last year with intermittent fasting, and specifically, doing high-intensity workouts fasted. I usually work out fasted at least 18 hours (fat burn is highest from 18-30 hours, then tapers off) and sometimes as much as 30.

I have come to where I can vary output to stay right on the cusp of hunger / no hunger. So, first five minutes on the weights are rough, then hunger subsides and energy increases substantially and I can get more intense. Then when I get to dead lifts and 350 lb leg presses, I get another rush of hunger until my body adjusts, which now takes under a minute. And I can go back & forth at will just by upping weight / intensity, then backing off.

It's all quite interesting. Even blood glucose, which prior to a fasted workout is usually 85-90, by the time I get home is 105-110. Other fasters have all tested similarly, so worries about hypoglycemia are unfounded, at least for people with properly functioning metabolisms.

From an evolutionary perspective, this makes a lot of sense, as you'd think we would be highly adapted to high energy output while fasted (animals don't hunt on full bellies). And, it turn out that the lean mass protective properties of hGH release are most pronounced when in a fasted state, when big muscles are highly stresses, and sleep. I have gained a lot of strength using these three things in combination to maximize GH. So, why? Gene expression, and it sure seems to be working for me.


..."there's no one optimal way of eating..."

So true. This is why I like the Paleo approach far more than the low-carb centered approach. You can find very healthful indigenous peoples living on traditional diets all the way from almost no-carb Inuit to the Kitavans who, because of a high consumption of tubers and other natural starches have a carb intake that's about 70% of energy.

I think virtually everyone can find a comfortable place somewhere in there. Speculating, I'd say if your ancestry is farther from the equator, you'd be more adapted to high fat and low carb (protein shouldn't get to more than about 35%, and even that's high), whereas, if your ancestry is darker skinned, equatorial, you're probably far better able to tolerate carbs.

However, this is all in the context of Real Foods.

Posted by: Richard Nikoley on January 21, 2009 6:21 PM


"your recommendations for a low-carbohydrate diet"

Actually, I recommend a natural diet (meat, fish, natural fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts / seeds -- ONLY) in whatever proportions work for you.

For most people, that's going to be relatively low in carb (100-200 grams per day), but it doesn't have to. Kitavans are perfectly healthy and get about 70% of energy from natural carbohydrate.

It's really the frankenfood that's the problem.

Regarding rapid evolution, see this recent post of mine on the subject, and I do speculate about diet.

In short, however, given the huge physical improvements I see in EVERYONE (a sample of hundreds, now) who drops wheat and sugar from their diet, I am pretty confident we're no even close -- at least not in our lifetimes.

Finally, regarding your issues with hunger, it is my position that hunger is everything and that until you find a way to fix that, no diet will work for you. But fortunately, I and many other have found a solution. Apologies to Michael for linking so many of my posts, but I want to answer questions if I can, and linking is probably preferable to tons of text.

On hunger in general:

Why Oprah keeps failing:

Pay close attention to the second of these testimonials: Confessions of a carb addict and what she has to say about hunger:

Posted by: Richard Nikoley on January 21, 2009 6:48 PM

> But let's be frank, primitive men were usually dead by the age of 40, so I don't find claims about their lack of common present day conditions very compelling.

Do you have a source on that? Freeman & Herron, _Evolutionary Analysis_, ed 3, p 475 shows that about 47% of foragers live to age 40 in the three forager societies examined. In two of the groups, half of those reaching 40 reach 60 -- that is, 25% of the total population reaches 60 -- though the data for the !Kung stop at 40 for some reason. (I don't know if these data were corrected to remove homicide as a cause of death; many primitive societies are very violent or ultraviolent.)

Make sure you are not confusing life expectancy at birth with other figures. In these data sets nearly half the foragers died by age 30, whereas in our society virtually 100% of those born alive live to 30. That has a huge effect on the life expectancy at birth.

Posted by: Eric J. Johnson on January 21, 2009 6:54 PM

I don't follow a specific low-carb diet but nonetheless try to limit my consumption of them. It's very easy to go overboard when eating carbs. They don't seem to send an "I'm full!" message from the stomach to the brain in time to avoid overconsumption.

Posted by: Peter on January 21, 2009 9:54 PM

What a great set of comments!

And there are people who argue that food, health and eating are silly topics ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 21, 2009 11:06 PM

Michael: let's not dispense with all packaged foods. Some frozen fruits and vegetables retain their vitamins well. I depend on blueberries frozen, and that partially has helped me to lose weight.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on January 21, 2009 11:28 PM

What I really want is the full deal on what foods are highly insulinemic, since many people seem to think insulin is the biggest mediator of the biggest undesirable results of carbs.

There are some people out there suggesting that the insulinemic results of foods do not always correspond to the glycemic results, though others claim there is usually a rough correspondence. It's hard to google up much data on what is insulinemic.

Posted by: Eric J. Johnson on January 22, 2009 12:06 AM

I am a pretty good baker. No way am I giving up my homemade tortillas, baguettes, five grain bread. So instead, I try to limit intake of processed sugars and grains. No one is talking about the other great carbs, either: alcohol.

Posted by: CyndiF on January 22, 2009 1:50 PM

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