I spent this weekend in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania at the Weston A. Price Foundation's Wise Traditions conference with John Durant and Allison Bojarski. I live-Tweeted it, but here is also a list of things I learned:
1. Dr. Stephan Guyenet and Chris Masterjohn are as cool, smart, and genuine in person as they are on the internet. These two scientists are doing great work and someday I hope to see books from both of them. I think it's hilarious that Colin Campbell criticized Chris for not being a real scientist when he wrote his critique of The China Study...so he became one! Well, that's not the only reason, but it's quite amusing.
2. Question your ideas. Did you know that your arteries are not like pipes? Masterjohn's presentation completely blew my understanding of heart disease away and we hope to host him for that same talk in NYC some time. Masterjohn says that heart disease isn't about too much fat, but about impairment of the LDL receptor, eventually leading to rupturing of the fibrous cap on the artery lining when collagen breakdown exceeds synthesis. Because the receptor is messed up, LDL sits around and oxidizes, damaging the endothelial wall. What can prevent this? Optimizing thyroid status, supporting antioxidant defense systems, and cooling inflammation. It's interesting that Chris does not think antioxidants are useless, but believes you can't study them in isolation because they act in concert. Stephan and I also talked a bit about how he believes fiber really is important. I hope he'll post more about this in the future :) but it's about short chain fatty acids. You can get some from animal products, but the absorb differently than those made from fiber fermentation. I'm also hoping to see something from Chris about how to optimize thyroid status, but he gave some clues in his presentation: protein, iodine, selenium, and good gut flora. He also noted that the master of thyroid function is leptin, which makes sense given that many CHD sufferers also have other markers of leptin dysfunction.
3. I'm 200% more committed to knowing where my meat comes from. On Saturday I attended the livestock nutrition track, where we learn how pasturing isn't the end of the story. Good pastures and significantly different from bad pastures and the meat from the animals grazing on good pastures really is more nutritious. There needs to be more study on this matter because there is a lot of sub-standard beef out there and consumers don't know enough to care about it. If you are interested in this subject Jerry Brunetti and Dr. Will Winter are doing some amazing work.
4. Yes, the Inuit do eat plants and lots of them. I already knew this, but at least ONCE A MONTH I get a comment, email, or tweet from a low carber insisting they ate only meat and fish. This is stupid and Anore Jones, who actually lived with a tribe, documented hundreds of plant foods that grew in large quantities. I have ordered her book and plan to post more about this in the future.
5. Gentle cooking methods and unprocessed proteins are the way to go. Interestingly, none of Price's "healthy cultures" fried their foods. I think Masterjohn will be exploring the science behind this in the future, but a lot of healthy cultures used steaming and boiling.
6. Starches are interesting. In Stephan's talk about Pacific diets he mentioned taro, cassava, and other starchy vegetables. Given how easy these are to find in NYC, I'm curious about experimenting with them in my diet.
7. Stop blaming the macronutrients! Anore Jones presented on the healthy, but fairly low-carb Inupiat and Stephan Guyenet presented on the healthy, but very high-carb Pacific people. During his presentation, Stephan put it this way "The idea that high intake of carbs or fat causes diseases of civilization is completely inconsistent with the data."
8. Added sugar(even natural sugar) and gluten (even fermented) are still bad and there is no reason to ever eat them. Unfortunately they were present in great amounts, despite numerous sessions I attended blasting them. It's interesting because high-carb Kitavans lose weight with age, but the opposite effect was quite evident at Wise Traditions.
9. Sometimes I get sick on paleo's overemphasis on macronutrients and disconnection from traditions. There is something much more enduring and exiquisite about some of the food traditions displayed here, that goes beyond some of the just-so stories and banal health products associated with paleo. That said, paleo is generally more scientific and there were things at Wise Traditions that would probably fall under the umbrella of woo.
10. I was really proud to see paleo/Crossfit representing good physical health. I think we gained a bunch of fans, including a farmer who provides meat to a Crossfit affiliate. In one session she was like "So this presentation lists a lot of problems with grains. Why even bother?" The only reason to bother is when they taste good IMHO. But ultimately I am a busy person and I'm not going to make blini or dosa very often. Paleo is so much easier. It was telling that one of the most popular sessions was Nora Gedgauda's one on curbing the carb cravings...
And a bonus:
11. The government isn't going to fix the food system and in its blundering will destroy many small farmers and food businesses. Wow, it was scary seeing a doc called Farmageddon, which was accounts of military-style raids on FARMS. It was weird being in the same room as many of the people I did my senior food law thesis on like Linda Faillace and Mark McAfee. I was very glad to pay $4 at breakfast for bone broth because it supported the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. But I still don't feel sad about not going to law school because the whole thing is just too depressing for me.