How hard it is to read a scientific study? Should you bother to learn? I recently commented on a blog post on that subject.
Reading a study to figure out what to tell other people what to do is hard. Almost all the people who plant a pubmed reference in front of you to tell you to eat magic macronutrient XYZ or to avoid food X forever lest you perish from cancer are unqualified to pontificate on the subject. That includes many people with fancy titles. The people really qualified to talk about these things are not going to be pontificating. Nutrition science is too young for such surety.
But there is a much lower bar to be able to look up a reference and say whether or not it actually even possibly supports what the author who reference it was saying. That's fairly easy a lot of the time, since apparently many news outlets don't seem to care to fact check. I took a science journalism class in college and was taught a very meticulous and accurate way of writing that I don't see very often. A perfect and wonderfully topical example cropped up recently. The headline reads "Uh-Oh, Paleo: Cavemen Ate Less Meat Than Previously Thought." Surprisingly, the Fox News title, while stupid, is not completely inaccurate: "Secrets of the Caveman Diet." I get the feeling they are more interested in the SEO value of the paleo diet than ancient diets.
It took me more time than I would have liked to find the actual paper because they don't even link to the abstract. It turns out this paper is open-access, so anyone can read it, and that makes not linking to it even more suspicious. Well, I understand why. Just do a ctrl-f for "paleolithic." Don't bother with "caveman" because that's not even a technical or meaningful term. When I did that my computer made that annoying noise that I keep forgetting to disable that means it didn't find that word at all. Well, let's just try "paleo." Aha, something...but it's in the references...it's a paper in the journal " Biogeochemical approaches to paleodietary analysis." I could Google "paleodietary" and realize that the term encompasses all archeologically-studied diets from any time period, but without even reading anything, I've gained a lot of skepticism for the conclusions of news articles. The Fox News article is crafty and does say "first farmers" but makes a tenuous connection to the paleolithic.
I can then read the abstract and the discussion, the least science-y parts of the paper, which have several standouts anyone who is reading this blog post can probably pick up. Oh look at this sentence "This larger value goes some way to resolving the conundrum of interpretations of very high animal protein intake in isotopic studies of prehistoric farmers." Wait, so this whole thing was comparing to prehistoric farmers and not hunter-gatherers? Another minus point to the news articles. If you are a good reader, you can also figure out that the reason they did this study is that stable isotope analyses was based on animal data and they wanted some human data to compare that to.
If you want, you can delve further by reading a bit about that method. Considering how many of my readers are procrastinating computer coders with the next tab over open to their GitHub account or some API, I think a lot of them can handle this. The Fox News article, just like my science journalism teacher taught, describes this method.
To see how much meat ancient people ate, archeologists rely on the fact that protein is the only macronutrient that contains nitrogen. Different foods have different ratios of heavy and light nitrogen isotopes, or atoms of the same element with a different number of neutrons. So in a given ecosystem, scientists can reconstruct ancient diets by measuring the fraction of heavy-to-light nitrogen isotopes in fossilized bones.
But the body also preferentially stores heavier isotopes of nitrogen, so scientists calculate an offset to adjust for that tendency when determining what a person actually ate. Historically, the offset was derived from studies in which animals were fed diets with different protein amounts. [7 Perfect Survival Foods]
Using that offset, many studies estimate that between 60 and 80 percent of the prehistoric human diet came from proteins, with most of that from animal sources.
I'll just Google "isotopes diet." If you've taken a basic college level class in geology or archeology you probably know to Google "stable isotopes diet." The first results are a free and fairly readable paper and a blog post by a physical anthropology professor, John Hawks. Neither of these is easy to read, but if you can read .php or .ru files or are just a good reader, you can probably figure out the basics of the method. Fox News starts to get it right. But that last sentence is flat-out wrong. Isotope analysis is a way to determine trophic level of the protein in the diet, so where the protein might have come from in the local ecosystem. It is simply not capable of telling you what percentage of the total diet was protein.
There are more complexities to the method I could go into, such as potential inaccuracies of the method, but that's the overall gist of it. I'd note that I've also seen this method butchered in books popular with paleo dieters, claiming that because some skeletons from the paleolithic indicate they got most of their protein on the same trophic level as arctic foxes that their diet was like that of an arctic fox. That's the kind of thing this study is relevant to- whether or not we can extrapolate animal data to humans accurately in stable isotope analysis of diet. That's probably not as good for sexy headlines or SEO though, is it? The reality is that if we applied this we'd find paleolithic humans ate many different diets, with plant protein increasing with sedentism and with certain local ecologies. But in the wild plant proteins are not easy to come by. Most of them are not digestible by humans and many that are, such as certain wild legumes, are seasonal. And in the end, both of those articles fail to make the issue relevant in any comprehensible way, the blisstree taking nonsensical potshots at the paleo diet:
Many contemporary paleo diet gurus advocate a diet that’s 50 percent or more animal products (though contrary to what some people think, this doesn’t just mean chowing down on bacon and burgers — paleo dieters stress the importance of eating lean meat, fish and eggs that come from grass-fed livestock). This is based on the conventional wisdom that paleolithic humans ate a diet of between 60% and 80% protein, mostly from animal sources.
First, I don't know where I can get grass-fed fish but it sounds cool and if you know any sources, email me. Second of all, since when are animal products just protein? The ones I eat have plenty of fat. Maybe there is a parallel universe where I eat a 60% protein diet and have already wasted away from rabbit starvation, but in this universe I don't know anyone who eats an 80% protein paleo diet. Most people naturally gravitate away from absurd protein intakes because it's unappetizing and makes you feel bad, though lately I've found many people persist on diets that are exactly that for years and even decades. I don't like feeling bad or eating bad food, so I've never had that long-term problem.
We don't know what percentage of a paleolithic hunter-gatherer's diet was protein, we don't know that for "caveman" or for early farmers. It's just not knowable right now and probably never will be. We do know that for modern humans, there seems to be a physiology ceiling for protein intake which John Speth addresses quite readably in his excellent, though bizarrely expensive (worth getting on interlibrary loan) book, which requires humans not eat like an arctic fox, but be innovative and seek out either fat or carbohydrate in order to avoid potential costs of high protein intake. But that ceiling is controversial.
So there, those two news articles are essentially debunked and we didn't even have to discuss various nitrogen isotopes or anything really truly technical. In the end, we realize that the study in question doesn't tell us how those in the past really ate or what we should eat now. It's just a little piece of a large completely unsolvable puzzle. To even be able to realize that gives you immense power not to be deceived.
This blog wouldn't exist if food wasn't important to me, but it amazes me how I can continue to have experiences relating to food that change my view of things. That's one of the reasons I haven't written a book. I'm just not there yet in terms of experience, even though I've made great improvements in my life and maintained them, there is still much to learn. How could I ever put the pen to the page knowing that my words would be a static representation of my views for months and even years?
Last year when I lived in New York City there was a little tiny diner on a remote corner of Long Island City, one of my favorite parts of the city. It's so close to Manhattan, but oddly desolate. Standing alone amidst the glittering lights of the city, with the roar of the highways in your ears, is a surreal Blade-runner esque experience. One that many people miss out on because of an irrational skepticism towards Queens, which has some of the best food in the city.
But M. Wells, that little diner, was special. And I ate there at exactly the right time. It's hard to explain, but it was during a time when I was trying very hard to make myself someone I wasn't for the sake of a relationship. I have an unfortunate predilection towards this whole "destiny" thing, perhaps that is just the way my mind works. It helps me craft narratives, but it also makes me try to craft my own life into a story sometimes, with signs and wonders guiding me. Doubts that don't fit the story often get ignored in the name of these destinies.
And there were many doubts about all kinds of things in this relationship, one of the major ones was that I had to adopt a particular religion in order to go forward with it, a religion that required very regular fasting from almost all animal products. There were many beautiful things about this religion and I felt drawn to it in many ways.
And I thought, well, I can do this. With all I knew then, compared to when I was vegan, I could make it work for me. But I was miserable. One priest told me I could try vegetarianism instead, but it didn't seem to help.
I might never know why. I was reading The Meat Fix recently, which is the story of a man who was vegan and suffered from terrible health problems which went away when he added meat to his diet. Why does this happen? There are so many potential explanations, but for me even supplementing with carnitine, taurine, b12, and DHA didn't make a difference. I was depressed all the time. I started having menstrual irregularities. My list of food sensitivities seemed to just keep growing and growing. All the sudden, for example, I was sensitive to shrimp, one of the few animal products legitimately allowed. One thing I have been proud of with my dietary experiments was that they have allowed me to travel. But here I was throwing up violently in a bag on the train to Manhattan. And missing work because my period cramps had become crippling, so painful that they brought me to tears.
I felt more socially isolated than ever too. Why me? Why this? Why can't I just make this work like it's supposed to? Why does my body seem to rebel against me after even a week without meat? I was told to pray harder.
FAUST. The pain of life, that haunts our narrow way,
I cannot shed with this or that attire.
Too old am I to be content with play,
Too young to live untroubled by desire.
What comfort can the shallow world bestow?
Renunciation! - Learn, man, to forgo!
This is the lasting theme of themes,
That soon or late will show its power,
The tune that lurks in all our dreams,
And the hoarse whisper of each hour
And then one day I read about M. Wells, opened by Hugue Dufour and his partner Sarah Oberatis. I found myself there almost as if in a trance, I found myself there at the counter, eating bone marrow, brain, liver, and butter...lots and lots of butter. I was eating everything I wasn't supposed to eat, dusted with gluten, cheese, and irrevocably impious in its decadence, but I felt so energized, so alive again. I continued to cheat on my destiny there, becoming more bold to live the life I really wanted to live, powered grilled cheese sandwiches layered with liver.
At the same time, I was also reading the book Blood, Bones, and Butter, the autobiography of chef Gabrielle Hamilton. I never reviewed it here. It was so well-written, but her relationships made me intensely uncomfortable. I saw in her tense relationship, what my own could become if I continued to try to make myself into someone I really wasn't. Mired in doubt and contempt, irrevocably tied together by children.
I gave up on my "destiny". I ended my relationship, quit my job, and moved to Chicago. I have never regretted this.
Now I am wise enough to realize that I should only be with someone who accepts me for who I am now, whether then what I might be. And now I really do feel like I'm living rather than just coughing under a constant miasma of doubt and misery.
M. Wells tragically closed when the landlord doubled the rent. I would have felt worse about leaving Queens though if it had stayed open. But I had fallen in love with that ridiculously fatty food from Montreal. And looking up the Dufour online, I found he was once involved with a restaurant in Montreal called Au Pied Du Cochon. I made it my mission to someday eat there despite my inability to pronounce it correctly.
I added Joe Beef to the itinerary after reading it about it in Lucky Peach, which was fortunate since Au Pied and Joe Beef are "friends" if restaurants can be friends. The staffs share ideas, friendships, and meals together.
I ate there first, with fellow blogger Easy as Pi, one of the few dietetics students in the world who could enjoy such a meal. The thing about Joe Beef is that there is only one menu in the entire restaurant. And it is written, in French only, on a chalkboard we were facing away from. It was also really dark. So we asked our bald tattooed waiter for a recommendation. He said "no." I was a bit miffed, but just named two random things I had heard the restaurant is good at: bone marrow and horse. He said we also needed the guinea hen. OK...
It is only lately that I have been learning to appreciate meat as it really is, not the meat that most of us are used to, bland and standardized, but the meat of animals that have had varied, often long, lives. In Sweden earlier this year they had on my menu at Frantzen/Lindeberg tallow and tartare from a 7-year-old dairy cow. I thought it was intoxicating, earthy, and maybe just a bit eccentric. And then I met Magnus Nilsson, a renowned Swedish chef, on a book tour here in Chicago. His cookbook is a revelation to me, especially since I help my family with our relatively new farm where we are raising our own beef. Old cows, I thought, were not much good, except for ground beef that maybe you could turn into chili. But Magnus explains in his book that he prefers older cows because of their deeper more complex flavor which he enhances through dry aging. According to him, this meat has real marbling caused by the use of the muscles as the cow ages, interspersing it with fat, whereas corn-finished young cattle marbling "is just blubber."
Joe Beef's Bathroom Bison
I think Magnus would have loved the horse at Joe Beef. It had so much savoriness and character that it tasted much like an aged cheese. The guinea hen was also very powerful, with the dark meat tasting almost livery, amongst wild mushrooms with their own characteristic umami flavor enhanced by the gamey fat. What can I say about the bone marrow? It was perfect. We were stuffed, like the giant bison head that startles you in the bathroom.
Breton buckwheat wheat with butter, cheese, ham, and mushrooms
The next day I ate a Breton buckwheat crepe at La Bulle au Carré and then we had coffee with the awesome people of Eating Paleo in Montreal, at secret paleo hangout The Knife/Le Couteau, which serves amazing coffee and properly-brewed tea, as well as very good "paleo" treats from Almond Butterfly. Joshua, the organizer, compared it to Bierkraft in Brooklyn, which also serves a paleo crowd despite being a beer store (my kind of paleos).
Unfortunately I had a little too much coffee and felt like my heart was beating out of my chest when I ate my wild boar and mushroom risotto at Bistro Cocagne, which has a nice late-night tasting menu that is pretty cheap for the quality.
The next day I knew I had to eat lightly in order to prepare for my meal at Au Pied. I ate some little treats at the Jean Talon Market, where I mostly bought things to take home. I love that Quebec has a wild food movement that is all about reflecting the local northern boreal terroir. There were a variety of places selling things like cattail shoots, birch syrup, Labrador tea, and spruce beer. I wish I had known about Les Jardins Sauvages, because I would have loved to do one of their wild food dinners. I was interested, as I always am, in local cider, but was skeptical when I found most of it was "ice cider." When I lived in Sweden, I visited a vineyard there that made ice wine, which is created from grapes left to wither on the vine in the frost, the sugars concentrate as the fruit shrivels. It wasn't far off from very very oversweet mead. Ice cider is largely made the same way, with frosted apples, but the ones I tried were really nice and dry, so I actually brought some home.
Mushrooms and ice cider
I had a light lunch at Omnivore, a Lebanese spot that uses locally raised meats, and then a perfect afternoon tea with Japanese snacks at Maison De Thé Camellia Sinensis, a peaceful little tea house with a large variety of very good teas, as well as a nice boutique.
It rained much of the time I was in Montreal, which I don't mind, but later that afternoon the rain broke. And as I walked to Au Pied there was a perfect double rainbow arcing between the fiery autumn leaves. And one end led right to Au Pied, where the staff joyfully gathered outside to see it. And I try very hard not to believe in destiny now, but this was hard not to notice.
I was very lucky to be seated at the bar far end of the bar where the drinks are made. I'd heard some complaints from friends that service is bad at the tables. The service I had was excellent, from Florant, who came from the border of France and Italy. He stopped me from ordering several things, urging me to order things that were the most distinctive about the restaurant and that also wouldn't be impossible for little folk to eat. I started with the half order of the duck fat poutine, which is a signature dish there. It was good, but of course it was good, it's duck fat poutine after all. It's covered with gravy and cheese and fatty liver. The real skill was displayed in the second dish I had, which was fresh eel wrapped in pastry with potato, apple, and sage. The dish wasn't beautiful, but in all other respects it was perfect. I had their own beer, which was only so-so, but Florant gave me resinous spruce beer, which was amazing and I only regret I didn't bring any home, but I've made my own before and when spring comes and the spruce shoots are out, I'll have to make it again. Amazingly, the whole trip I was able to tolerate alcohol, even my arch-nemesis red wine, which normally gives me leg cramps. Maybe it was the sheer fattiness and richness of the food? I don't know.
Food at Au Pied was not photogenic, but it was delicious!
It was interesting that the people there seemed pretty svelte, not much different than the people in Sweden, despite having such meaty fatty food. It is also a place where you can get non-aged raw milk cheese. If the FDA's pronouncements were true, it's amazing that Quebec isn't a wasteland of food poisoned zombies. Either way, I ate plenty of it.
And when it came time to leave, I was sad and I hope to go back, maybe to visit Au Pied's Sugar Shack or Les Jardins Sauvages. And to see all the amazing people I met again. I also connected through Toronto and from the Porter lounge stared out at that glimmering city. I'd like to visit there some time too, and Porter seems to fly there from Chicago 17 times a day. A bonus for being a cold-loving creature is that I didn't encounter many tourists at all and none of my flights were full.
It was an adventure, and adventure I might never have had in another less happy life. Sometimes I imagine there are parallel universes, that versions of me from them reach out, to tell me even there I would have made similar decisions. That this is why the pilot mistook me for someone for Toronto, that a man at a coffee shop there told me "hello again," that someone had checked in under my name before me at Joe Beef. But these are once again my brain trying to make a grand story out of a mundane life. The word "mundane" comes from the Latin root of "belonging to the Earth", and if my life is about that which comes from the Earth, that is the home of apples, mushrooms, wild geese, birch and all I know that is good and green, then I don't mind.
Recently I've been researching Southern food in the 1800s for a dinner that I'm cooking for. Weirdly, this style of cooking is somewhat in revival in Chicago with restaurants like Big Jones and Carriage House serving fairly authentic period foods. I was at Big Jones recently and all their biscuits are made with pastured lard. That's pretty hard to find in the South these days. In fact, recently a Southern relative said that "our family worked hard so our children wouldn't have to eat offal, and now you enjoy it?"
I grew up in the South and part of my family has lived there for a very long time. The states we are from, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi consistently rank very poorly in health markers.
I didn't grow up on lard. When I visited my grandmother, she had a tub of modern "healthy" margarine. But Grandpa still cooked with bacon grease. And there was always lots of shellfish and fish, which I hated as a youngster.
So when 23andme introduced its beta of a family tree feature and I started filling it out, I was dismayed to realize that on that side of the family at least, lifespan has dropped rather significantly over time, particularly if you exclude people who died in wars, accidents, at birth, or in childbirth. And even more if you exclude those who were not well to do. Most died in their 80s. Many were in their 90s. It goes along with this post I read some time back on Ryan Koch's blog on American lifespans. Nehemiah Manning of Bogalusa, who was my great-great-great grandfather, died when he was 99.
Interestingly, Bogalusa has been the site of a major heart disease study and an intervention program that promotes low-fat "heart healthy" diets for children.
Based on my research, that's not exactly what Nehemiah grew up on I would guess. It's hard to find much on that side of the family, but I have a lot more information on the family members from Arkansas. They weren't rich, but they were fairly well off. They owned cows, pigs, and sheep. They hunted bears and deer. And fished. My grandmother said her grandmother ate anything that moved. Living outside major cities was probably a boon for them since cities were so unhygienic back then and doctors did more harm than good. I calculated average lifespan of all some generations in my family that I had data for, excluding deaths in war, childbirth, and people who lived in very bad conditions (the McEwens when they first came from Scotland, for example, lived in crowded urban tenements), though I included some people who were rural poor (estimates would probably be higher without them).
Average lifespans for great grandparents was 74, for great x 2 it was 78, for great x 3 it was also around 78. There were plenty of nonagenarians. For people not living in obviously awful conditions or dying from things modern medicine does a good job preventing (typhoid, childbirth deaths, etc.), lifespans weren't so dramatically different it seems. Some lines of my family I can trace back into the 1700s, and I can assume a lot of them were wealthy considering they left records of all the land and livestock they owned. Plenty of nonagearians there too.
As for other things they ate, I know at least one of my great great great grandfathers, who died in a flu epidemic at the old age of 91, owned a flour mill. But those days flour was at least freshly milled and the varieties of wheat they grew were probably pretty different. I think that's why a lot of really old Southern cookbooks don't seem to contain very large sections of baked goods and buns that we think of Southern now, because heritage wheat is much more of a challenge to bake with.
The main cookbook I've been using for my research is The Virginia Housewife, which is available for free on Google. It's thrifty and luxurious at once. The upper and upper middle classes at the time were influenced by fine French food, but the cookbook is nose-to-tail and includes a lot of instructions on preserving.
this diet looks AWESOME to me
As far as eating like your grandmother, this stuff was long out of fashion by the time she was born. People started eating industrial margarine, low quality canned foods, and other processed foods even in the 20s and 30s in the South. In many ways they were probably worse than some of today's processed foods since many were adulterated or contaminated. Cotton took a heavy toll on the region. Cottonseed margarine, possibly the worst kind of margarine you could possibly eat, was present in many kitchens. Cotton mills and farms polluted the soil, a legacy still affecting us today as the recent arsenic in rice controversy has shown. Agriculture was consolidated and regulated. Households no longer kept their own hogs and cows.
And people blame the traditional southern diet on the region's health problems. Well-meaning reformists like Jamie Oliver attempt to introduce culturally alien low-fat and Mediterranean diets. Meanwhile in the cities in the North, svelte urban folks dine on butter and pork fat. It's kind of hilarious that I can find pimento cheese made with good pastured local eggs and dairy in Chicago, whereas the stuff I knew growing up in Georgia was often processed store-bought stuff. Lard? I can buy pastured lard at the corner store here. It would be a big effort to get that in the South these days in many places, particularly outside major cities where it is now popular with the bourgeois. Most hog farmers in the South are the Smithfield factory farm sort.
It isn't helped by what I would refer to as industrial pseudo-tradition, the same phenomenon responsible for fried bread being "traditional" Native American food. In the South I would say Paula Deen would be the perfect example of that. Her recipes are those of a region in decline, one in which processed flour, canned food, and refined sugar replaced the foods of the woodlands and rivers.
Even worse, many Southerners I've spoken to seem to firmly believe the Southern diet is "bad" and that foods like offal, game and animal fat are for "low-class" uneducated people.
As for fried foods, I also don't think deep fried food was that common. A good lard breed pig, which is what most families had back in the day, gives you a lot of lard, but that was precious and often had to last a year. These days, many families in the South use a deep fryer daily, mainly reliant on cheap processed reusable oil. In the Virginia Housewife, frying seems to mainly refer to pan frying.
I'm looking forward to exploring more about true traditional Southern cooking. I'll probably need to take a trip down South to see some family, including some distant relatives of mine who live mainly off of local fish and game.
Over the years I've been involved in this community, I've met many many people who have seen their health improve when they eliminated wheat gluten from their diet. But I also see it as part of a worrying trend that relies all too much on self-experimentation and self-diagnosis. Often when I meet these people they are noshing on a burger without a bun at a regular restaurant or ordering a salad a restaurant like Hanna's Bretzel where gluten-free ingredients are laid side by side with non-gluten free ingredients.
If these people actually have celiac disease, this is probably not an acceptable behavior. To be clear, celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder, is an extremely serious disease. Any gluten in the diet can contribute to long-term health problems and even cancer.
Scary stuff. Scary enough that celiacs need to seriously consider cross-contamination at places like restaurants. Fries that are fried in the same oil as breaded chicken nuggets, eggs cooked in a pan that was used to cook French toast, salad made from lettuce served with tongs used to pick up croutons, these can introduce damaging gluten into a celiac's system. So it's not acceptable to just go to a regular restaurant and order a burger with a bun and some fries. Doing so might mean subjecting yourself to chronic damage. Senza, which is the gluten-free restaurant I reviewed recently, does not allow any gluten at all in its building ever. That is the level of strictness required to achieve remission of damage in most celiacs.
It's not surprising to find that in our culture where eating out is so common, many celiacs still present with intestinal damage years after initiating a gluten-free diet.
I've asked many of these people who eliminated gluten from their diets and saw an improvement why they do not get tested for celiac. Sometimes it's a financial issue. They feel they cannot afford the tests. Other times they are concerned because a true diagnosis by intestinal biopsy requires that they eat gluten for some time before getting the test. I'd say that a month of feeling sick is worth it in order to avoid years of chronic damage. The alternative would be to commit to a truly strict gluten-free diet and stop eating at the local Irish pub.
Which is think is totally unnecessary and silly for those of us who are not actually celiac. There is growing evidence non-celiac wheat sensitivity exists, but none that show that trace gluten could cause the kind of damage seen in celiac. It is likely it is more similar to lactose intolerance, which is dependent on dose (few lactose intolerants can truly never tolerate any lactose ever), than an autoimmune condition like celiac.
I'm completely against strictness when it is unnecessary. For me it absolutely is. I was able to avoid a biopsy because I did a genetic test that showed I completely lack any of the genes related to celiac. Through the FODMAPs elimination diet, I found out it was the fructans that were causing trouble for me. I do occasionally consume wheat products, primarily fermented wheat and those made with heritage grains. They are not a staple for me because I don't think they are particularly great for you (that doesn't mean they are "bad") and they require quite a bit more effort than just making a meal with fresh meat and vegetables. I will continue to eat whatever I can get away with on special occasions and when traveling unless I see conclusive science that says any gluten ever is bad for anyone.
But if you have the genes, that doesn't mean you have celiac, it just means it's possible for you to have it and you should pursue the matter further. I created this chart once to explain it to a friend:
Yes, it's crappy to have to go through all that to get a diagnosis and it can be hard to find a doctor that cares, but I truly believe it's worth it to know. Especially since celiac is becoming more and more common. I'm not a fan of Wheat Belly, (also see Dr. Deans' review) which essentially took a blog with some interesting ideas, and I suspect the publisher said "find everything that could possibly be bad about wheat and mention it without any nuance whatsoever." You can write such a book about almost any food. It reminds me of Whitewashed, which is about milk. I'm still waiting for the book about how evil shrimp is because some people are allergic to it.
Shrimp is Actually EVIL SEA BUGS THAT CAUSE LEAKY GUT- the book
On that note, a professor associated with the grain industry recently published a critique of the book. There are some good points there on Davis' hyperbole, misuse of studies (not citing the follow-up that disproves his theory, irrelevant in vitro studies, studies on genetically engineered mice) and use of the same tactics that plant-based zealots use (acidification! AGES! glycemic!), but right off the bat I spotted a bunch of mistakes. One of the most obvious is that the author mentions the Joe Murray study on historical blood samples. It says "the analysis shows that 0.2% of recruits had the gene in 1950 compared with 0.9% of recent recruits." And then it goes on to say increase prevalence might be due to better identification and awareness. But that study specifically refuted that, as it was not even studying genes, it was studying antibodies. It was an important study in pointing to increased prevalence, which should surprise no one who studies autoimmune diseases, most of which have increased in prevalence.
“This tells us that whatever has happened with celiac disease has happened since 1950,” Dr. Murray says. “This increase has affected young and old people. It suggests something has happened in a pervasive fashion from the environmental perspective.”
Dr. Murray lists several possible environmental causes of celiac disease. The “hygiene hypothesis” suggests the modern environment is so clean that the immune system has little to attack and turns on itself. Another potential culprit is the 21st century diet. Although overall wheat consumption hasn’t increased, the ways wheat is processed and eaten have changed dramatically. “Many of the processed foods we eat were not in existence 50 years ago,” Dr. Murray says. Modern wheat also differs from older strains because of hybridization. Dr. Murray’s team hopes someday to collaborate with researchers on growing archival or legacy wheat, so it can be compared to modern strains.
Murray's team also used those blood samples to show that the undiagnosed airmen were more likely to have died young, possibly as a consequence of undiagnosed celiac. Undiagnosed celiac is frankly dangerous, particularly since it takes so little gluten to cause damage. There is still an argument about whether or not gluten is bad for everyone, but we aren't going to win over the medical profession if we use hyperbole instead of saying "hey did you consider whether or not your patient with diabetes/ibs/osteoporosis/arthritis/etc. might have celiac or wheat sensitivity?"
So if you suspect that wheat is an issue for you, I strongly recommend taking time to get a firm diagnosis so you can know if you need to be 100% gluten-free.
One of the most hilarious articles I've come across lately is by low-fat vegan diet promoter Dr. McDougall. It's titled The Paleo Diet Is Uncivilized (And Unhealthy and Untrue). Who the hell uses words like "uncivilized" these days? The whole time I was reading it, I imagined Dr. McDougall as a snobby British gentleman with a tophat and monocle, as well as a Richard Dawkins-like scowl, pontificating on the savages.
Part of the blame can be placed on Loren Cordain, who is the paleo diet paradigm that McDougall chooses to attack. You can tell that both are actually quite uncultured when it comes to food.
Dr. Cordain writes, “For most of us, the thought of eating organs is not only repulsive, but is also not practical as we simply do not have access to wild game.” (p 131). In addition to the usual beef, veal, pork, chicken, and fish, a Paleo follower is required to eat; alligator, bear, kangaroo, deer, rattlesnake, and wild boar are also on the menu. Mail-order suppliers for these wild animals are provided in his book.
More than half (55%) of a Paleo dieter’s food comes from lean meats, organ meats, fish, and seafood. (p 24) Eating wild animals is preferred, but grocery store-bought lean meat from cows, pigs, and chickens works, too. Bone marrow or brains of animals were both favorites of pre-civilization hunter-gathers. (p 27) For most of us the thought of eating bone marrow and brains is repulsive. But it gets worse.
Seriously what is wrong with these people and where do they live? Where I live in Chicago, there is LINE in the rain to eat at places that serve bone marrow and liver. The bone marrow at Au Cheval goes for around $20. In NYC, Montreal, San Francisco, London...any major city, these are common menu items. They are damn delicious and I refuse to take any dietary advice from people who clearly do not enjoy life. Although in my experience with such wretched diets, I eventually stopped desiring everything as I succumbed to being a catatonic libido-less appetite-less zombie.
Sorry, people in the centers of civilization are eating bone marrow, not disgusting veggie burgers or lean chicken breast and broccoli.
And does anyone else think it's hilarious that he says we should dismiss the paleolithic diet because there is some evidence for cannibalism and then says "Men and women following diets based on grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables have accomplished most of the great feats in history." His example? Genghis Khan. Yeah, because that guy never participated in bloodshed. Also we should refrain from eating any cuisines from cultures where people have resorted to cannibalism in hardship...which basically throws out almost all of them.
I'm all for starch, but like Genghis I'd love some butter on my potatoes.
But guess what? People like different things. They do well on different diets. I've met people who had success on McDougall's high-starch diets. But I guess it's hard to sell a dogma if you admit that.
Also this is a perfect example of how diet guru doctors are so manipulative. Even though McDougall is linking to sources, if you follow the trail, you will find many are not good sources. They are in scientific journals, but they are letters or commentary. Or they don't support his assertions.
There is no doubt that gluten-free options are growing. However, at least in the places that I've lived, most gluten-free options are kind of sad. They are either bundled in with "health food" options and are also whole-grain/vegan/low-fat bundles or misery or are just regular menu items made with an assortment of mediocre processed gluten-free breads and pastas. Since the main problem for me with wheat seems to be the complex carbohydrates, often these options are worse than regular food. For those with celiac, it's not exactly fair to be banished to a butter-free ghetto just because you can't have wheat.
So I was excited to eat at Senza, which is a new gluten-free restaurant in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. Except they don't want to be known as a gluten-free restaurant, just as a really good restaurant that happens to be gluten-free. The concept reminded of of a restaurant I read about in Berlin called Ma Restaurant and I expect Senza will share a Michelin Star with Ma considering the level of cuisine here.
The lighting was not very good for taking pictures myself, but their website has some great photos like this one of the steak entree:
The cuisine, as you can see from the photos, is very modernist, but still very filling and satisfying. I ate off the A La carte menu at this visit, but I'd love to try their tasting menu some day. Everything was cooked with the utmost skill with excellent use of classical techniques. Of course my favorite classical technique, the flavoring with stocks and broths, was showcased in the prawns dish, which features a lovely savory consomme (a type of broth clarified with egg whites) made with Virginia ham. I should try this myself as I have seen it in cookbooks as a use for the hardened ends of a good ham. The scallops were perfectly seared and my halibut and arctic char dishes made it clear that the chef really does seafood very well. Each dish also features a wealth of interesting little textures and flavors. One of my favorites with a tiny little s'more on top of the chocolate ganache for dessert, served alongside a lovely little cup of creamy chicory "coffee." The scallops came with mini choucroute, which are bundles of pork wrapped with sauerkraut.
I would probably skip the bread and pasta next time. I tried a little, but especially compared to the meats and fishes, it's just kind of clear that this isn't where the restaurant shines. I do think it's possible to do bread service that doesn't just remind you that gluten-free bread will never be that nice sour crusty french bread you miss so much. Cassava, also in Lakeview, does "bread" in the form of cheese puffs made with cassava that are really good. Also, personally, I can't tolerate high alcohol beverages like wine or cocktails very well and gluten-free beers don't agree with me, so I would love to see some ciders on the menu, especially considering that they are experiencing a bit of a revival these days.
On Saturday I paid a visit to the local wine and spirits shop Lush and there were doing a cider tasting. I tried a few really good ones, my favorite being the Eric Bordelet Poire Granit. Later I learned this was a perry, a pear cider, which I am glad I didn't know because I had only had really horrifyingly sweet perrys. But this was dry and almost buttery. I also was a huge fan of the Isategi Natural Cider, though the staff at Lush noted this was a hard sell to most people. But I love very sour barnyardy tastes. If you like gueuze or kombucha, you'll like this. And I think Senza's food would pair well with these.
Either way, I'm glad that Senza is showcasing the fact that there are many good real naturally gluten-free foods that don't require creating elaborate mediocre substitutes. And given that trends in restaurant food are moving away from things like grain and sweet-heavy dishes and have been for some time, it was only a matter of time that such a restaurant would open. And Senza is very serious about gluten-free. They told me that there is absolutely no gluten allowed in the restaurant ever, which is a must for people with celiac disease.
Fasting, particularly the type known as intermittent fasting, has been popular in many health communities for awhile. Many people learn about it through Mark Sisson, Leangains, or Eat Stop Eat. Some people do it for weight loss, other people do it for its other potential benefits such as boosting cellular cleanup known as autophagy.
But it has been getting some negative press. The latest I saw was this horror story: How Intermittent Fasting Saved Me…while Slowly Killing Me:
By week 8, my chin was breaking out more. By week 9, more, by week 10, I had legitimate acne; large cist-like monsters just hanging out under my skin. A bumpy, unhealthy face, tired eyes, no energy, what my mom called a “depressed” state of mind. My hormones were ALL out of whack.
Yikes! But many people report that fasting has great benefits. That was my own experience. At first at least. I liked the idea of IF because I've always hated breakfast and it jived with my natural tendency to want to work without thinking about food. And often it was pretty awesome for me. I felt energetic and focused.
But sometimes I just felt terrible. Fatigued, lacking focus, light-headed, distracted by gnawing hunger. Was it time to ditch the IF habit?
No, because this was only happening sometimes. Clearly there were times my body was not up for fasting. And others when it provided a boost.
So over time I've figured out a few rules that keep me from fasting when it's going to back-fire. Of course this requires you not follow a strict regimen, that you be willing to skip fasting when it's not the right time. Don't worry you can always go back to Leangains or whatever later. And you'll be better prepared to do it if your body isn't a mess. Because fasting in the wrong context can stress your body, telling your biological systems that you are in a very bad place. And when that happens, it can respond dysfunctionally.
When to consider skipping fasting rather than skipping meals
- When your sleep is disrupted: Oh, you accidentally stayed up all night because you were watching a movie? Or your sleep was bad because a dog was barking outside your window all night? This might not be the best time to fast. Wait until you get a good night's sleep before you fast.
- When you are psychologically stressed: Have a huge project due at work? Just broke up with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Have an important speaking engagement? This not be the best time to skip meals.
- When you are not getting good nutrition: if the meals you are eating when you aren't fasting aren't nutritionally dense and nourishing, you aren't in much of a good state for fasting.
- When you are using it to reach unrealistic or unhealthy goals: Are you a woman trying to get six-pack abs? Maybe you should consider that at the body fat percentage required to have those, many women experience amenorrhea. My own opinion is…well, why bother risking it? Do you want to trigger the dreaded female athlete triad? I don't know, I've always been perfectly happy with a normal flat stomach with vague muscles though. I guess if you are trying for the bodybuilder look, go slow and be careful. You might want to try many small meals instead of IF because it might be less likely to trigger starvation adaptations.
- On that note, IF might not be for you at all if you have serious hormonal dysfunction: I'd recommend not trying IF if you have amenorrhea, because the last thing you want to do is trigger more stress in those hormonal systems. Also, if you start to experience menstrual irregularities, maybe it's time to reconsider your fasting habits. I've only experienced this once in my fasting and it was when I did my vegan paleo experiment. And I discontinued it immediately because I've encountered so many women in this community who lost their periods on IF…and never got them back. I'm not going to say that IF is dangerous for women, but be aware that when done dysfunctionally it absolutely has the potential to make you a hormonal wreck.
- When you have issues that can be exacerbated by caloric disturbances like hypothyroidism, low blood pressure, and feeling cold all the time. I've had issues with low blood in the past and I suspect that IF led to an episode in which I fainted. Over time I was able to recover by eating a higher carb diet, but until my blood pressure was up, I fasted from fasting.
- When you are suffering from certain digestive issues is another bad time to do it. Fasting might help bloating/gas, but if you are constipated, it's probably going to make it worse by decreasing motility and moisture.
- When you are suffering from constant hunger pangs. Some people are going to disagree with me, but my own experience and the experience of many others I know is that if your body is in an appropriate state for fasting, you will not experience hunger during your fasts. That is one of the reasons I do not ever time my fasts. I eat when I am hungry. For me, to constantly have to obsess about food and suffer from hunger pangs totally defeats the purpose of fasting. I don't know if it's a sign of physiological stress,but it's definitely a source of psychological stress.
- When you are trying to adapt to a new diet. Whether it be a paleo diet, a ketogenic diet, a gluten-free diet, an elimination diet… or any other major change in dietary habits, let your body adapt to your new diet, which often is a source of stress, without adding fuel to the stress fire by not actually eating your diet.
- When you are trying to adapt to a new exercise regimen. Another dumb thing I did…keeping up my fasting at the same time I was taking an Olympic lifting class. Yeah, and then I wondered why I felt crappy. Changes are hard and especially when you are ramping up your activity level it can take your body time to adjust. It's probably a good idea to provide consistent nourishment at the beginning of this change.
A borderline case is when you feel like you are getting sick. Often I will fast in this case and end up not getting sick. But the research on this matter is mixed, with few studies in humans. One study showed that it might be a good idea to feed a cold and starve a fever. Instead of fasting, it might be a good idea to stick with gentle easy to digest immune nourishing foods like soup or stews. There is even some scientific evidence that chicken soup might help fight colds
edit: and as someone pointed out in the comments on Facebook, it's probably not the greatest idea to fast when you are pregnant or nursing. I'd hope that would be obvious...but you never know. And it seems to be a problem in some cultures.
I'll fully admit that sometimes this is hard to follow. When I'm stressed and have a big project due, the last thing I want to think about is breakfast. But to be honest, I've found it's better to eat something "bad" in this kind of situation than to fast. I wish I could just skip a meal if there are no good choices, but sometimes I have to bite the bullet and know that while what I'm eating isn't optimal, at least I am not pushing my body into a bad place.
And as always: if something makes you feel bad and isn't working for you, it's probably a good idea to stop doing it.
Killer whales are one of the three known animals that experience menopause, with females ceasing reproduction in their 30s or 40s and living beyond that into their 90s. Some have said that evolution doesn't select for longevity because it only cases about you living long enough to reproduce. Nonsense. In species with complex social structures like ours and like the killer whales, every individual matters and the elders can play important social roles. In a new study of killer whales, scientists found young males were three times more likely to die the year after their mother’s death. Older males over thirty were eight times more likely to die if they lost their mother. Young females didn't seem to be less likely to survive after losing a mother, but older females were 2.7 more likely to die.
This doesn't surprise me. I couldn't help thinking of the Game of Thrones books, which are very roughly based on The War of the Roses, and the roles that women in those stories play in promoting the interests of their sons. Crafty Olenna Redwyne, Cersei Lannister, Lysa Aryyn, Catelyn Stark...all women of varying ages who go to great lengths to promote and protect their sons, with varying amounts of success.
Like the world of the killer whales, the world in Game of Thrones is one of war, in which day to day life is a struggle for survival. Killer whales inhabit diverse habitats and have many different cultures known as clans. Relatively pacifistic resident killer whales are sometimes preyed on by the more martial transient whales, much as the Iron Islanders in Game of Thrones raid and kill.
Killer whales, like us, evolved hunting diverse difficult prey in order to fulfill our requirements for high-quality protein and fats that our large brains need. Humans hunting elephants and killer whales hunting sperm whales require cooperation and complex knowledge. It is not surprising that killer whales have been known to assist humans in hunting. Killer whales are also known to pass knowledge on to their kin. Perhaps this is behind the development of complex social systems in which elders play a vital role in passing down knowledge and promoting the interests of their offspring. Interestingly, killer whales, like humans, have been known to kill other animals for recreational, rather than survival, reasons.
On reddit people were speculating about Rory's really really nice boots in the episode A Town Called Mercy:
They look fairly minimalist and flexible, as if they would allow the foot to move somewhat naturally, unlike many western-style boots which are built for riding, not walking and have a clunky stiff sole with a pronounced heel. Unfortunately, such boots seem to be hard to find. Seems like every boot has a cement block glued on to it as if you are going to be working on construction, not walking around. The Japanese, with their flexible split-toe tabi boots worn in construction, which they believe are MORE safe since they allow you to sense the ground, show that such boots are unnecessary even for that.
the picture on the right is from a catalog that used real workers as models...they are so stylish!
I've blogged about some women's options, but I get inquiries about men's shoes too. Some options that remind me of Rory's boots include this Quoddy handmade in the US Grizzly boot. Expensive, but seems like it would last a long time and the company will repair it for you.
I've blogged about Footskins before and they have a nice men's boot option. Also handmade in the US, you can also inquire in order to get a thinner sole or for them to be built without padding on the bottom.
I bought the Cushe boots, which have a thick, but flexible and zero-drop, Vibram sole, and most importantly for me in Chicago, are very water resistant. They have a nice men's option called the After Ride boot. For women who like Rory's style, the Blowfish Ryder and Hatfield boots are similar.
Any other similar options? Let me know in the comments!
Last year I paid a visit to Miya's Sushi, in New Haven, a restaurant that tries* to be sustainable
We are aware that the restaurant industry has a very harmful impact on the environment; in particular, the traditional cuisine of sushi is destroying our oceans. Therefore, we try to maintain a restaurant in as ecologically responsible manner as possible. We do our best to not use ingredients that are either overfished or that in their production have a negative impact on the environment. As a result, half of our vast menu is vegetable-centered; the other half does not utilize traditional sushi ingredients such as Toro, Bluefin Tuna, Big Eye Tuna, certain Yellowfin, Unagi, Red Snapper, Maine Sea Urchin, Octopus, and so on. Instead, we’ve created dishes that include unconventional sushi ingredients such as Catfish, which, unlike the farming of many farmed fish, are grown in confined ponds that make it virtually impossible to cross-contaminate other species or destroy the aquatic ecosystem around them.
I was reminded of it because on a popular Facebook group called International Paleo Movement Group, there was an argument between me and Lana, the admin of Ethical Omnivore Movement, a facebook page where she posts various articles and other information.
Lana thinks it is unacceptable to eat any seafood ever because we need to give our damaged oceans a rest. That there is no such thing as sustainable seafood. She was promoting a film called Sea the Truth, which is produced by the Dutch animal rights party.
They also produced Meat the Truth and I think here it's where we find parallels between many tactics that animal rights activists use to discourage omnivory. The main tactic is to highlight parts of the industry that is destructive and then also highlight incidences where corrupt governments and NGOs labeled meat or fish sustainable where it wasn't. The implication is that the entire industry is bad and it is impossible to buy sustainable versions of these products. With the growth of the local food movement, in meat at least, this position has become untenable since a growing number of people have personal relationships with the farms they buy from and see that not all meat is produced in the way portrayed by these documentaries. So they also increasingly ally themselves with other arguments that appeal to self-interest such as that meat or fish is all full of toxins or will clog your arteries and kill you slowly.
They also attack small producers, trying the best they can to find small producers that are poorly run in order to undermine consumer's confidence that they can find good products or to highlight the idea that even small producers can have a negative effect on the environment such as Meat the Truth's emphasis on methane that even grass-fed cows produce.
They want you to firmly believe that there is never an acceptable meat or seafood to buy.
When this kind of stuff gets incorporated by the paleo movement, it becomes even worse since so many people in this movement are rabidly anti-government and anti-agriculture. Fish farming? It has the word farming in it, so it must be always bad. Government monitoring and regulation of fish stocks? Nope, because a lot of governments are corrupt. I don't even know what solution they are proposing. Lana simply said people who eat fish are being selfish and small picture and we have to personally change in order to save the ocean.
Given that the ocean is the commons and in general owned by no one (a more sophisticated libertarian argument would attack lack of ownership), and that we can't assume that rest of the world's population is willing to give up seafood because of animal rights films, unfortunately the main viable solutions will be on a global policy level. Which definitely is difficult considering the capture of governments by industry interests, but the consensus on individual action is that it is ineffective at even making a dent on global problems like ocean health or climate change. I think even the makers of these films understand that. Marianne Thieme, the Dutch politician that helms these films, is a big supporter of bans for things she doesn't like, not trying to guilt consumers into making different buying choices. The Dutch understand this more than most people with their multiculturalism struggles. Marianne, knowing that many of the things she opposes are deeply culturally embedded, has backed bans on Kosher and Halal slaughter for example.
I'm not saying that small local solutions aren't important, but they will fail if they rely on the commons and the commons are not protected. A good example was efforts in the Gulf to develop sustainable fisheries that were stymied by the oil spill there.
The reality on fish and meat is that it's not all black and white, that the presence of bad apples shouldn't tarnish efforts to reform the industry, develop alternatives, and lobby for regulations or other methods that protect the commons for everyone. Some methods of harvest will need to be banned like trawling (some countries have already banned them) and some species will require harvest moratoriums.
Sustainable solutions do mean we have to consume less of certain things and not consume others at all, which is why arguments about emissions from grass-fed cows and other similar arguments can be so deceptive. Methods like pastured cattle raising are less productive, which means higher prices for consumers. Even though I get my beef at a very good price, it is still more expensive than factory-farmed beef. Which means the average consumer will buy and eat less. There are costs, but they are worth it in order to support functioning ecosystems that can produce all kinds of foods for future generations.
Of course when you are dealing with a wild animal things get harder. You have to have sophisticated monitoring in place in order to determine what can be taken sustainably. You have to accept that some years you might not be able to hand out any tags for animals or harvest quotas. It's possible that the best solution for some of these stocks is to treat them a bit like we started treating land hunting in the US after overhunting became an issue: we heavily regulated it, de-commercialized most of it. If you want a deer, you can go out and get it yourself with a tag given out by the government. This method has already been applied to abalone in California. You have to dive to get wild abalone. Given that this is kind of dangerous, sustainable abalone farms have been developed for the commercial market.
Back at Miya's, I thought most of our sushi tasted very good. The menu describes the production method, harvesting method, and a little bit about each fish. Well, maybe not a little bit. One of our complaints was that the menu was the length of a small novel, which made it difficult to actually decide what to order. I'm not going to pretend that my own choices or even your choices can save populations of fish. For every bluefin tuna I chose not to consume, there is a consumer in a developing economy who probably just got his or her first paycheck and is going to probably order fish without looking at their "seafood watch list" card. Solving ocean problems requires large scale policy solutions, not telling a relatively well-off educated person in New York City that they are selfish for eating grouper like Lana was doing on IPMG.
But I do think those of us in the food industry, whether its writers, chefs, or grocers can make a small dent by promoting good products and leaving bad ones off the menu. Good products might not reach everyone, but they provide business models that can be used around the world and generate demand that might spur development of similar production/harvesting elsewhere.
We hear a lot of endangered seafood, but what about marine species that are pests? That are invasive and negatively impact ecosystems? These are ideal to consume, we just need to make sure that we are purposefully overharvesting and not replenishing. And that we accept that if we are successful, these things won't be on the menu anymore. Jackson Lander's Eating Aliens highlights some of these species. Miya's has a tasting menu of invasives.
There are also conservation success stories that have been so successful that these species flood the market, which is the case with lobster right now.
I also think that we need to embrace some forms of aquaculture. This isn't black and white either. There are bad fish farms. Maybe right now most fish farms are bad, but there are good systems that are being developed right now. Development of fish feed for aquaculture that is not itself wild harvested and is not also species inappropriate grain pap is a major issue right now. We need to look at systems that farm seafood at every level of the ecosystem, from aquatic plants to brine shrimp. I visited an aquaponics operation here at the Plant in Chicago recently and there were farming herbivorous Tilapia there. Unfortunately, with most of their diet being grain, consuming them has almost none of the benefits of consuming wild fish. Innovations in the production of DHA-rich algae could be a possible solution. Closed salt-water fish production systems are already being developed. I have had an interest in aquaculture for some time and would very much like to produce freshwater prawns on my family's farm.
Also, I can't help but notice Lake Michigan in my backyard, which is full of fish. Maybe someday once the remediation is done, we can get pollution under control so we can consume fish out of their more often. I eat fish my father catches from there sometimes, but try not to consume it very often.
Either way, we can't let ourselves be derailed by sexy documentaries and books created by people who have other motivations, namely the end of omnivory, in mind. Even as a niche market, we can drive the development of better solutions.
I recommend the book Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe which takes a look at the current state of the fish industry. It's a short read and free of extremism. When buying seafood, I would recommend Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website. You can even print out a card to take with you to restaurants and the grocery store. They use several criteria to determine which seafood are good choices. The ideal choices come from healthy populations which only what can be replenished is harvested, using methods that do not damage the ecosystem. The ideal fishery is managed in a way that preserves and maintains the marine habitat. You can read more here. You should also take toxin levels into account like mercury and PCBs. If you take fish oil, consider switching to algae-based DHA or source your oil carefully, as much fish oil production is currently unsustainable. I used to buy Marine Stewardship Council certified fish, but based on their approval of fisheries that use trawling, I do not believe they are a trustworthy source of information.
I treat buying seafood the way I treat buying anything. There is a wrong way to produce things. There is contamination everywhere. But if I ditched anything that was possibly bad, I'd have nothing to eat. Instead, I look for and support the best I can find. This requires me to ask questions and be knowledgeable. With sardines for example, there are two main fisheries. One is threatened (Atlantic), the other thrives (Pacific).
Personally, I've never been crazy about fish oil. I think the benefits have been exaggerated and there might actually be some negative health effects to high consumption.
I never ever ate fish until I was about 20, when I first started trying to use diet to treat my health problems. I hated fish and remember drenching it in spices to choke it down. But now I actually appreciate the taste of many fish and think it is a very important element in the flavors of my cooking. The main seafood items in my kitchen are:
- fish condiments: a little of these goes a long way and they last me a very long time. Fish sauce is an essential ingredient in curries, anchovies in Caesar salad dressing, and bottarga is a nice treat- it's expensive but it lasts me a very long time and substitutes very well for parmesan if you are daily free.
- wild fish like salmon from highly regarded fisheries: expensive, but well worth it as a treat
- low trophic small fish like Pacific sardines and smelts (invasive)
- what I eat out I sometimes have things farmed oysters, Maine lobsters, or farmed clams. I should cook these more at home, but I haven't really mastered them yet.
I really would like to find a better source for shrimp. When I see wild caught Oregon shrimp at Whole Foods, I definitely buy them. Since fraud is an issue, I would suggest finding a reputable fish monger and buying whole easily-identifiable fish.
So no, I don't think the solution to our ocean's problems is to leave them alone. Good fisheries are stewards of the ocean and by relying on the ocean for food, our stake in the matter is much higher. Good community fisheries can even mount effective resistant about threats like undersea drilling. I also think it's important to preserve traditional healthy livelihoods and work with small local community fisheries to adapt their traditions to new global challenges as best as we can, a sentiment Lana does not share. To her it's black and white- there is no fish from the ocean that is acceptable to eat. I won't be liking "Ethical Omnivore Movement" any time soon on Facebook. It's time for a rational omnivore movement.
* they had no information at the time I dined there on the sustainability of the rest of the menu, such as the vegetables or the grains.
With all these success stories about people feeling better on various diets, I think we forgot the people who sometimes feel worse. Probably because those people give up and don't stick around. I'm known many people who have adopted paleo, primal, ancestral, low-carb, gluten-free, or whatever diet. And instead of feeling better, they have all kinds of problems, particularly stomach problems.
There are many reasons why this happens, here are a couple I tend to come across:
1. They hose their digestive system with "cleanses." For example, the Master Cleanse, which involves fasting on just lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne for a few days to a week. Now I love spicy food. And I love acidic food. But out of the context of real whole meals, there is plenty of evidence they can be irritants, particularly in the digestive lining. There is no evidence that the Master Cleanse will remove some nebulous "toxins," but you are not only disturbing your gut microbiota (both good and bad) and irritating the mucous membranes of your gut, but also depriving yourself of real nutrients your body uses to maintain its defenses. You'll come out of it with possibly increased gut permeability and a devastated population of gut microbes. If you've already tormented your poor gut with this, you might need to eat a gentle diet (FODMAPS, for example) and take probiotics until your gut becomes less inflamed and repairs itself. People do often feel better on cleanses though in other ways, but that's because they are excluding many foods and yes, there is some value in breaking up pathogenic biofilms in the gut, but there are possibly more sustainable and gentle ways to do so based on preliminary scientific studies.
2. Speaking of FODMAPs ( Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. ), another reason people might feel worse is that many so-called safe or good foods on these diets are difficult for many people to digest. A lot of books talk about how difficult it is to digest grains, but many plants have similar complex carbohydrates that can cause gas, bloating, and other GI symptoms. Rice, for example, is mostly nutritionless, but has had most of its complex carbohydrates polished away. If you take it out of your diet and replace it with "grain-free cauliflower 'rice'", you are consuming a massive amount of Oligosaccharides. I personally had a lot of bloating from foods like this. Remove them from your diet and then add them back in slowly one at a time to see what you can tolerate.
3. They forget any food can be toxic. Gluten, for example, seems to take a beating in the "toxic" department with nearly every book talking about how bad it is and how many people have celiac, which shows how gluten is a terrible non-food that no one should ever eat. But plenty of people are allergic to shrimp and we don't talk about how we aren't meant to eat shrimp because of that. I also see people talking about toxic lectins and phytic acid, but these aren't just in grains, they can be in any plant food. Peanuts and gluten are particularly bad because their biochemical structure causes problems for many people, but you can be sensitive to any food. Even beef. Once you take off the blinders, maybe you should consider whether or not you are feeling sick because a "safe" food isn't so safe for you? Or maybe you shouldn't be eating bread made out of an entire cup of walnuts, which might overload the capacity of your body to deal with the phytic acid and other assorted irritants in nuts.
4. They think fermented foods are always good. Sauerkraut? It's a cure-all! Why not eat it with every meal? Unfortunately, we do not have the robust digestive systems of our ancestors. If your gut is damaged, contamination of fermented foods by mold or sensitivity to histamine can be a real issue. You might have to remove them from your diet or at least find a source that is less likely to be contaminated. Additionally, fermentation does not always remove all FODMAPs, so many FODMAPs sensitive people will have digestive symptoms when eating things like sauerkraut.
5. They put massive amounts of fat on top of everything. So you heard fat has been unfairly maligned? Time to put massive amounts of coconut oil, butter, coconut milk, lard, and other fats on top of all your food right? Well, maybe slow down a bit and give your body some time to adjust to a higher-fat diet before you make your diet mostly fat, because adding in it all at once all the sudden can cause GI problems. For a long time I was one of those people who thought that only carbohydrates could cause GI symptoms and contribute to dysbiosis, but fat definitely can increase levels of endotoxins and increase gut permeability as well, and it seems that phytochemicals may inhibit that process. So, instead of chugging that can of coconut milk before your workout, maybe consider having a normal meal that includes a variety of other foods as well. In the end, while it might sound like heresy, some people actually might not do very well on high-fat diets. Try replacing processed carb foods in your regular diet with fruits and tubers instead of with fatty foods.
6. They take massive amounts of supplements. When you are taking ten different supplements, the odds that you are taking one that is irritating your stomach get pretty high. Mineral supplements like magnesium and iron are top offenders, as are supplements that contain FODMAPs in the form of prebiotics like inulin. Stop taking the supplements until your stomach sorts out and then add them back in one at a time to see which ones you can tolerate. With iron, it is probably advisable to get it from food, since excess iron can feed pathogenic gut bacteria.
7. Undereating can be just as problematic as overeating, particularly on a new diet. If you undereat, your body won't be able to maintain its systems effectively, which can make your digestive system prone to irritation. Counting calories may not be perfectly accurate, but it can help you get an idea of whether or not you aren't giving your body enough nourishment.
8. Excessive amounts of protein all at once. One friend recently told me he was having stomach problems on paleo. Turns out he was mainly eating chicken , which was providing massive amounts of protein without much fat, probably leading to a type of mild "rabbit starvation." As arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote:
But it has been found in various parts of the world that a diet of lean meat exclusively will cause diarrhea in from three days to a week. If no fat can be added to the lean, the diarrhea becomes serious and will lead to death. A well known field where such deaths occur is the northern edge of the forest in Canada where Indians are sometimes unable to find any food except rabbits. The expression "rabbit starvation," frequently heard among the Athapsc Indians north-west of Great Bear Lake, means not that people are starving because there are no rabbits but that they are going through the experience of starvation with plenty of rabbit meat. For this animal is so lean that illness and death result from being confined to its flesh.
in this situation, it would be wise to add some fat, carbohydrate, or both to the diet to normalize things. You might be able to tolerate higher protein if you add it in slowly. You are probably not going to die, it's more likely you will discontinue the diet when your roommate orders pizza and you feel better after a few slices.
9. They have food poisoning. I'll never forget several years ago in college when I was having worsening IBS symptoms and I kept trying to fix them with diet until I ended up in the ER. A stool culture revealed I had salmonella and needed antibiotics. If you symptoms keep getting worse, it might be time to go to the doctor and ask for a stool culture.
10. These diets can't fix everything. I know several people for whom no dietary tweaking worked and they were later diagnosed with serious IBD. They are doing better on medicine. In the old days, they probably would have died. Many many people died in the past from diarrhea. Don't beat yourself up if you can't eat your way out of a very serious illness. Some people can, some people can't. Modern medicine can make your life better if you are one of the latter. Even if you don't have a serious stomach disorder, there are tons of non-diet things that can cause stomach problems, like sleeping poorly or thyroid conditions.
Any others I'm missing that caused you problems?