Thursday, March 31, 2011

What is in wheat that you cannot better get from a green salad with egg on it ?

Kurt Harris MD asks that very question in his excellent blog, PaNu, where he makes a convincing argument for ditching grains from the diet.  He says:

I have never had anyone able to tell me exactly what evil would befall a person without wheat, barley or rye in their diet. I have scores of non-celiacs that say that it made a huge change for the better, and some say it did much more than the sugar elimination.

For anybody with celiac disease, and he maintains that 97% of people with CD are undiagnosed, the consequences are far more life threatening than most people realize:

Nearly every common autoimmune disease described is associated with at least an order of magnitude increased risk of celiac disease. Conversely, celiac patients have increased cancer, osteoporosis, and autoimmune diseases like DM I, autoimmune thyroid disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Sjogren disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, neuropathies, and even neurological disorders like schizophrenia. We don't know how big the iceberg is with these diseases, but the tip seems very large. 

But he also makes the argument that in an evolutionary sense, meat is better for us than plant food, which is often adapted to avoid being eaten.  And that makes the argument against cereal grains (notably wheat, barley and rye) relevant to the rest of us who do not suffer from celiac disease.

Not having legs to run away or claws and teeth to defend themselves, plants have developed passive defense mechanisms instead.  They might have poisons or hard shells to make them less attractive to creatures trying to eat them.

If this is the first time you've come across a theory like this, you're likely thinking it's total nonsense.  But please read his reasoning.  Harris started off thinking it was nonsense too, but he's a smart guy.  Read the article here.  If you like it, there's also a second part, which you can find linked at the end.  If anything, I find the second part even more convincing.  Read them both and then make up your mind.

Monday, March 28, 2011


That walnuts are good for you has been known for a long time, but it's nice to see it reported in the mainstream media. 
Scientists from Pennsylvania told the American Chemical Society that walnuts contain the highest level of antioxidants compared to other nuts.
Antioxidants are known to help protect the body against disease ...all nuts have good nutritional qualities but walnuts are healthier than peanuts, almonds, pecans and pistachios.

Read about the latest study here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Skinny Figgy" Bars

Two blogs I have on my reader and which I love to follow are They Draw and Cook, and Fatfree Vegan Kitchen, Sinlessly Delicious.  Imagine my delight when SusanV's fat free vegan recipe was featured on They Draw and Cook.  A double whammy!

This "sinlessly skinny" recipe yields 16 gluten free bars, each of which contains 26g of carbohydrates (that is, 30g less 4g of fibre).

As I read the recipe, it struck me that this is an excellent example of why low-fat diets set a dieter up for failure every time.

I know I couldn't eat just one of these bars.  I would most likely consume about four of them, possibly even more if they really were as delicious as they seem to be.

Each of these "sinlessly delicious" treats is in fact disappointingly and misleadingly sinful.  Four of them would throw me over 100g for the day, and that's before counting the milk in my tea and coffee and everything else I might be eating that contains any dietary sugars at all.

And that would throw me out of the 50-100g/day primal sweet spot for effortless weightloss as coined by Mark Sisson from Mark's Daily Apple.

I don't deny that this looks like a delicious recipe.  And it contains neither gluten nor refined sugar (if you ignore the small quantity of icing sugar drizzled overtop), which has to count for something... but still, doesn't this illustrate the inherent problem with our culture of baking?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Putting on weight with Artificial Sweeteners

There are many different brands of sweeteners available, and the most commonly used one is Aspartame.  Increasingly, people are also turning to Splenda (sucralose) and Stevia.

These sweeteners contain almost no calories, so they seem to be a great alternative to sugar.  However, a fair amount of research suggests sweeteners are not helping people lose weight.  They may even be doing the opposite by suppressing the body's natural satiety signals and causing more food to be eaten.

According to a study recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition,
Previous research has suggested that the gut hormones peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide (GLP)-1 are released from intestinal cells after a meal (post-prandially) in proportion to the amount of energy ingested.

Once released PYY and GLP-1 are known to be satiety factors. The mechanisms by which energy rich nutrients stimulate the release of GLP-1 and PYY from intestinal cells remain poorly understood, however it is believed that an intestinal sweet taste receptor may play a key role.
This means that normally, the body sends out signals that you are full soon after you have eaten a meal.  The study found that consumption of sucralose did not, however result in satiety signals.

There are various studies looking at this, and it is still poorly understood exactly what is going on.

It's also quite possible that psychology plays a role.  If you're feeling virtuous because you're eating something that contains no sugar, it's entirely feasible that you will be tempted to grab another from the plate.

This is definitely not an invitation to go back to putting sugar in your food.

Rather be aware of what's going on, and use this knowledge to make smarter choices where possible. 

Think about our culture of baking, and consider preparing alternative foods that don't need additional sweetening.  Like a bowl of plain yoghurt with a handful of berries or toasted almonds, for example.  Or some cheese or a cup of tea or coffee.  As you move away from sweet treats, you will find you don't miss them as much anymore and that you are satisfied with much smaller quantities of sweetness.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is Fructose better for you?

According to Mother Jones,
Most common sweeteners, including many fruit-juice concentrates, cane juice, maple syrup, and honey, have a fructose-to-glucose ratio around 50/50. Notable exceptions include brown rice syrup and kitchen corn syrups like Karo, which contain no fructose, and certain kinds of agave nectar—which contains up to 92 percent fructose. (Agave is the sweetener du jour for the Whole Foods crowd, thanks in part to its low glycemic index—which measures how fast your blood sugar spikes after you eat a given food.)
Since fructose measures 0 on the glycemic index, you might be fooled into thinking it's better for you than glucose.  Not so. 

Fructose goes straight to the liver for processing, where it leads to a buildup of unhealthy fat. 

The more fructose you consume, and especially when you consume large quantities in one go, the worse it is for you.

It's a waste of time debating whether high fructose corn syrup is worse for you than regular cane sugar, when in fact, both should be avoided.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Food for Thought

I just came across this excellent essay by somebody who eliminated most carbohydrates from his diet 39 years ago, and has become leaner, more muscled and healthier for the experience.

When you first start thinking about reducing the carbohydrates in your diet, it's automatic to think about the conventional wisdom by experts and laypeople alike, who tell you that you need "good carbs".  Well, the more you read on the subject, the more evidence comes to light to challenge this view.

There are, in fact, quite a few people who live on a rather extreme diet that comprises protein, fat and not much else, and appear to be perfectly happy and more importantly, healthy.  I won't go into this in much detail, other than to say that while this may have social ramifications that aren't for everyone, these people are not crazy or uninformed.  And they claim to be among the healthiest people on earth.  Their premise is that carbohydrate consumption underpins all the major diseases that plague us as we age, not just type 2 diabetes, but also cardiovascular disease and cancer.

I will post more on this subject in the coming weeks and months.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's Fat Tuesday

Also known as Shrove Tuesday, today marks the day before the start of Lent, and here in north-east America, everyone knows it as Paczki day.

You can head to to check out the recipe for this triglyceride overload.  Obviously I'm not recommending that you make it though!

Sugars in Fruit

From an early age, we're encouraged to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, but there are many fruits that are so loaded with sugar that they can be considered to be nature's candies.

While a piece of fruit is usually a smarter option than reaching for a candy or a cookie, neither of which provide useful micronutrients, vegetables are usually a better choice.

When you're trying to lose weight, it's very important to be aware of the sugars in the foods you eat.  The website SugarStacks provides many excellent visual comparisons that might surprise you.  It includes numerous different types of food that surround us every day (not only fruits and vegetables) and stacks up the number of equivalent sugar cubes.

Next, head over to Mark Sisson's Daily Apple where he provides some great visuals that show the effect of your daily carbohydrate intake on your weight.

You don't need to count calories to lose weight, but you do need to radically restrict your carbohydrate intake.  Knowing what is in the foods you eat is an essential part of this process.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Good Carbs" as a gateway drug

Diet and nutrition experts love to distinguish good carbs from bad carbs.  We've all heard this:  stick to wholegrain breads, jacket potatoes, wild rice and fruit, and drop the refined flour and sugar.

I have always known this advice wasn't going to work for me, which is why I never did any serious dieting.

Eventually I realized avoiding all starchy foods was the way to go.  I admit I haven't always stuck to it 100%, but it has been close enough to be impressive, given my prior track record.

It was the best way for me to get over my carb addiction.  After the first week or so, it became really manageable.  Sort of like giving up hard drugs - have you ever heard of an occasional heroin user?  If you knew somebody who took heroin, would you recommend that they give it up altogether or that a little bit every day is ok?

It occurred to me that the so-called good carbs act like a gateway drug:  I'll bet many people following conventional dieting advice will eat their bowl of oatmeal, a wholewheat pita, a sweet potato, or whatever else is on their slimming menu, and then feel so virtuous (and maybe a little peckish) that they'll reward themselves with a portion of chocolate or ice cream.  Or, since we live in a culture of baking, take a cookie or a "healthy" muffin that is being passed around.  And after that, maybe they'll have another one, because it was so delicious.

Sticking to the so-called "good carbs" leads to a vicious cycle that dooms dieters to failure as they punctuate their meals with hours of waiting for the next one.  And as I've pointed out before, it's hard to find any evidence of anything essential you'll be missing by skipping them, which leads me to wonder why they are actually called "good carbs."

In theory, the conventional advice sounds reasonable, as long as you manage to maintain a carbohydrate intake that is within acceptable limits.  But maintaining this longer than a week or two is really hard.  The hunger is exactly why so many diets fail.

It's actually far easier to radically cut all carbs, replacing them with other delicious foods that bring on a longer-lasting feeling of satiety.  Once the sugar addiction has passed, it's no longer difficult to resist them.

I have no idea what it's like being addicted to hard drugs, or alcohol either, for that matter, but I imagine breaking the habit isn't that different.  Firstly, it's not going to work until the user has their head wrapped around the idea that it's time to stop.  And secondly, weaning oneself doesn't work by half measures.

It's an all or nothing thing.  But the good news is that it doesn't take long for the body to adjust.  And after that, I guarantee you will discover that your carbless meals will be anything but boring.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A culture of baking

I was reading an article about "good carbs" on the Harvard School of Public Health website, which made an interesting observation about a study of the effectiveness of various popular dieting strategies.   In this one, overweight, premenopausal women went on one of four diets: Atkins, Zone, Ornish, or a standard low-fat, moderately high-carbohydrate diet.  Although all four resulted in weightloss, and the low carbohydrate Atkins dieters had the most success, that's not what I want to focus on today.  This is what I found so interesting:

It turns out that few of the women actually stuck with their assigned diets. Those on the Atkins diet were supposed to limit their carbohydrate intake to 50 grams a day, but they took in almost triple that amount. The Ornish dieters were supposed to limit their fat intake to under 10 percent of their daily calories, but they got about 30 percent from fat. There were similar deviations for the Zone and [low fat, high carb] groups.
It occurred to me that if there is so much "cheating" going on when it comes to these studies, the obesity epidemic in our society is most likely and literally being fueled by the consumption of excess carbohydrates that people are not even consciously aware of. 

What all dieting strategies seem to have in common is a mantra of avoiding processed food, sugar and white flour.  I don't know of any nutritional expert that doesn't say this.

Look at the Canada Food Guide, for example.  It points out that limiting foods and beverages high in calories, fat, sugar or salt are some of the steps people can take towards better health and a healthy body weight.  In my opinion, the operative word here is limiting.

Have you considered the extent to which we live in a culture of baking?  Muffins, cookies, school bake sales, birthday cake, doughnuts.... even if you avoid fast food, it takes some thinking to overcome the onslaught of baked goods most of us face every single day.  Even the "healthy" options seldom taste good unless they are made with at least some white flour and a high glycemic sweetener,whether it be sugar, honey, maple syrup.  Even wholewheat flour is usually little more than white flour with some bran thrown back in. 

This is why going off the grain ride is more of a mindset change than an actual diet.  It doesn't tell you to limit flour and sugar.  You avoid it completely.

The experts will be arguing for some time about good carbs, bad carbs and the desired daily counts.  But nobody recommends consumption of sugar or white flour.  Let's get that out of the way and let's face the fact that we live in a culture of baking.  What we need to spend time on is developing effective strategies and recipes to overcome this challenge while still living in the real world.  And while we're about it, maybe it's time to ponder why so few people challenge this culture of baking head on. 

For me, it's not a big problem.  After overcoming the initial carbohydrate withdrawal, I was able to concentrate on the flavours and colours I was gaining, by filling my plate with more of the yummy stuff, and less of the beige starches.  After another little while, I even developed a bit of an aversion to the idea of breads and cakes - it's difficult to describe without sounding like a goody-two-shoes, but I seldom find them tempting any more.

And finally, when low-carb skeptics question the healthfulness of the Grain Ride approach, it's helpful to remember there is no expert anywhere in the nutritional field who recommends eating sugar or refined flour.  Not only will you still eat carbohydrates in the other foods you enjoy, but chances are (unless you are fanatical about every item you put in your mouth), your reality is similar to that of the dieters in the study quoted above who were consuming quite a few more of them than they realized.