Back from Travels and Reflecting on the Carnage of Junk

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I know — long time, no blog!  I needed some time away to hike in the Italian Dolomites, teach five courses, and reflect on the global carnage of putting junk in our mouths.  Time to get back to current developments, like the WHO study on the carcinogenic attributes of processed meat, or the U of Michigan study concluding that the protein casein in cheese is as addictive as heroin, and, of course, the role of the media in obfuscating these warnings by its offering “news” space for the North American Meat Institute to categorically reject any and all science that doesn’t serve its industry.

Which bring me to gluten, the unscientifically maligned substance that is detracting attention from what’s really killing us: obesity, diabetes, heart damage (aka heart disease), cancer, etc. – NOT GLUTEN POISONING!  The meat industry has done an admirable job of making gluten hysteria the perfect diversionary obsession in keeping everyone’s attention away from what’s really causing all the aforementioned deadly ailments:  eating meat and other high fat, low nutrient junk.

On that note a new cafe has just opened on 12th Avenue just across from my workplace, Seattle University.  The “Gluten Free Cafe & Bakery” is called NICHE and it invites you to “eat, drink, and smile.”  I peeked in the window the other day and was not surprised to see a fairly brisk business – presumably owing to every Cross Fit instructor in Seattle adding it to their approved-cafe list.  I don’t remember if the customers were smiling, but I do remember that they were all a bit overweight (well, a bit to a lot overweight).  That is but one of the unfortunate consequences of being hoodwinked into Paleo eating.  Paleoites tend to get almost all of their calories from meat, and will eventually suffer from diabetes, heart disease and cancer at incidence rates far above those who follow a more simple and healthful regimen – simply refraining from putting junk in their mouths.

So, to my friends sitting across the street at Niche “Gluten Free Cafe & Bakery,” I hope you will “eat, drink, and smile” while you can, for you may face some challenging tomorrows.

Eating and Exercising in Denial

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Remember that survey taken a few years ago that asked respondents about whether they saw their current diets as healthy or unhealthy?  The one where 85 percent of the clinically obese respondents reported that they at a “healthy diet.”

So – if their diets were “healthy” then they must be attributing their morbid obesity to some other behaviors, right?  Or to some peculiar genetic strain that creates body fat from thin air!

I don’t want to come down hard on exercise.  I like exercise.  I do it often and with joy.  But I don’t want to attribute to exercise powers that it doesn’t possess; like, for example, the power to keep me trim.  Exercising is a fringe benefit of my being trim, and of my decision to minimize the placement of junk in my mouth.  It’s one of those delightful bonuses of eating food instead of junk.

Too many of my friends think if they run fast enough and far enough they will be able to outrun the effects of eating junk. They aren’t succeeding with that strategy now, and they won’t succeed in the future.  What you put in your mouth is by far the number one agent of your body shape and your body weight.  AND the number one agent of what is going on inside your cardiovascular system, out of sight of what your body may look like in the mirror.

Don’t delude yourself.  The solution to your health and fitness blues will not be found mainly in your gym.  It will be found at the end of your fork.  If you are nutritionally subsisting on the standard American diet, there are not enough steps you can run or barbells you can hoist to adequately mitigate that damage.

“But You Need Some Fat!”

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Yes, you do.  Definitely.  Let it never be said that this blog does not strongly endorse this important dietary truth:  You need some fat.  How much fat do you need?  Well, you can get by just peachy on anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of your total caloric intake – although 20 percent is at the high end.

You do not, however, need between 45 and 55 percent of your calories coming from dietary fat!  And the people who look at you with that worried expression and intone “but you need some fat” are probably consuming close to half of their calories from fat.  That would be fairly normal for people on the SAD (standard American diet).  Notice how “some fat” in the eyes of the SAD eater becomes close to half of one’s total calories!  This is like telling a person who is drowning that “you need some water” or a person who is freezing to death that “you don’t want to be too warm.”  This is the fool’s comparison, and it finds its way into almost all of our conversations around nutrition.  We tell our friend that “you don’t want to consume too much fiber” when our friend is consuming one-fourth of the fiber recommended.  We tell our friends that “you need to be sure to get enough protein” when our friends are consuming two and three times the protein that they can use and safely metabolize.

Beware of these impulsive utterances of dietary advice.  And when someone warns you with “but you need some fat” you can relax, knowing that you are already getting plenty of fat.  Probably way more than you need.

More on Glutenophobia

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By now you are well aware of the mass hysteria created by the tour de force of the meat industry’s marketing triumphs – the selling of the Paleo diet (forget “Where’s the Beef” and “Real Food for Real Men” – that was child’s play!).  As you know from previous blogs, a cornerstone of this success has been the financing of faux news and the underwriting of faux best-selling tomes revealing the truth about how we should be eating.

The Atkins Diet was the break-out success story in this marketing strategy, which led ultimately to the Cave Man mania (aka Paleo) which now has half the world terrified of being attacked by run-a-way gluten.  Since I take graduate students on a dozen or more weekend course retreats every year, I have the tiresome duty of collecting and passing on dietary restrictions to the camps and conference centers that we use.  And as I’m sure you can guess, the number of students who require gluten-free choices (because they believe themselves to be “gluten intolerant”) grows by leaps and bounds.  Taking careful note of which students have this unfortunate intolerance, I take further note of their food selections as they pass through the mess hall.  I am still waiting to see my first gluten-intolerant student select healthful choices from the buffet line.  Aside from eschewing gluten, they seem to eschew all buffet choices that don’t fit under the umbrella of junk as defined in our entreaty Don’t Put Junk in your Mouth.  They follow a different path: Put Nothing but Junk in your Mouth!

 I guess they got the memo about gluten being the source of all human infirmity.  But missed the memo about the real infirmities plaguing western civilization in the 21st Century: obesity, cardiovascular damage (aka heart disease), diabetes, myriad cancers, etc. – none of which are scientifically connected to consuming gluten!

Sponsored Health “News”

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The NBC News affiliate in Seattle runs a series called HealthLink in which it ostensibly conveys news on health-related issues.  A recent such “news” piece entitled “Getting pregnant:  What you eat does matter” shows a woman who claims to have had two miscarriages that she ultimately traced to her diet.  The piece is replete with unassailable assertions like “you have an unhealthy lifestyle, you have unhealthy other issues” and “a Harvard study shows a woman’s fertility can be improved by eating a healthy diet.”

Well – duh! – who can argue with that?  But this particular clip defines “eating a healthy diet” as eating Paleo – no grains, no dairy, no soy, no corn, etc.  Since this is a news program, the viewer naturally assumes that this dietary remedy for miscarriage is supported by legitimate research.  And, as I’m sure you know by now, there is no research supporting the a link between consumption of grain to either fertility or miscarriage.  What there is that supports this connection is lots and lots of meat industry money, the money that supports all things Paleo.

Yes, diet is important to good health.  Which is important to fertility.  And to lots of other things.  If you want to improve your diet and your health and your fertility, try reducing the level of your dietary fat consumption from 50 percent to 10 percent, which is not the direction the Paleo people want you to go.  And be on vigilant alert for local news programs that pretend to give you real news about healthful living.  I would not recommend King 5 Broadcasting in Seattle.

Protein-Deficiency Paranoia

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Today I was reading the weekly nutritional advice column in our local paper.  Unsurprisingly, amidst otherwise innocuous advice was this obligatory bait for protein-deficiency paranoia:  “Be sure to include protein in every meal.”

Do you get the subtle hint?  Let me spell it out.  “Be sure to include protein” is code wording for “you probably aren’t eating enough protein, and, all too often, you are probably skipping protein in some of your meals.”  Oh my God!  Not that!  What will every happen to me?

Well – despite this subtle warning that you may be facing deadly protein deprivation – you’re not.  In fact, if you are not currently facing starvation, then you are most likely consuming far more protein than your body can safely process – certainly this is the case if you are eating some variation on the SAD (standard American diet).  And unless you are in the midst of some very extraordinary muscle-amassing regimen, your body can probably use no more than 15 percent of its caloric intake in protein.  If you are consuming more protein than your body can use, you are hurting that poor body.

Oh – and let’s be clear about another hidden meaning in that nutritionist’s warning.  She knows that most of her readers equate the word “protein” with the word “meat.”  Hence the often heard question of vegetarians:  “But how do you get your protein?”

If you’ve been reading this blog, then you may remember that most vegetables contain a higher protein percentage of total calories than our bodies are able to use.  Here are a few random examples:

Cooked bok choi        32 percent protein

Edamame                    33 percent protein

Swiss chard                 23 percent protein

Snow peas                   27 percent protein

Pinto beans                 22 percent protein

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  Even if you restrict your eating to vegetation, you will have to work to keep your protein intake at a safe level.  And, yes, of course, you get a higher percentage of your calories from protein from most meat:

Hamburger               41 percent protein        (58% fat)

Cooked salmon       46 percent protein       (54% fat)

Boiled egg                35 percent protein        (62% fat)

Yes – those items that you associate with “high protein” sources are even greater sources of dietary fat!

Hence we call these last three examples “junk” in our vernacular – junk because they are calorie rich and nutrient poor.  Dangerous junk because they contain up to 5 times the level of dietary fat than is optimal, and because they contain animal protein, which compelling science has shown to be a catalyst for the growth of cancer cells.

Once again our conventional wisdom, nurtured by a “media for sale” ethic, has us worrying about the wrong thing:  that we aren’t eating enough protein — when we are, in fact, eating way too much!

Cross Fit “Nutrition”

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If you are getting your nutritional advice from a Cross-Fit trainer, you are being stupid – in so many ways!  First, you can save yourself the Cross-Fit membership and go directly to the source of this advice – the meat industry, proud sponsor of the Paleo Diet, the Zone Diet, the Atkins Diet, and other industry-serving fads.  One can only hope that Cross-Fit trainers know more about human physiology than they do about nutrition (or do they just know how to feed the Cross-Fit business model with an eager underwriter?).

I don’t have anything against meat – as long as it’s nutritious and safe.  But it’s neither.  Sliced ham comes with a super-junk caloric breakdown:  48 percent from fat (zero nutrients), 43 percent from animal protein (deleterious), and a meager 9 percent from carbohydrate.  This is the kind of junk you don’t want to put in your mouth!  Or – how about “healthy” cooked salmon: 54 percent fat, 46 percent animal protein, 0 percent carbohydrate.  That’s what we call calorie dense and nutrient light.  We also call it junk.  Your Cross-Fit trainer would call it food!

Trust me, doping on animal fat and animal protein is not the road to sound nutrition.  It’s the road to cardiovascular damage (heart disease), diabetes, obesity, and myriad cancers.

Don’t put junk in your mouth.  Don’t listen to your Cross-Fit trainer.  Don’t be stupid.