The Inuit and blubber. The Masai and beef. Dr. Cameron Smith and bags of butter. Come again?
This week’s Smart Fuel is practically genius – although we wouldn’t necessarily recommend making it your next meal!
It’s a well-known fact that some of the healthiest populations on earth enjoy copious amounts of saturated fat in their diets – enough to thoroughly horrify any American dietitian worth his or her salt. Though we seem to be moving away from the fat phobia that gripped the nation’s nutrition conscience in the 90s, mainstream wisdom still recommends avoidance of saturated fat in the diet.
They wouldn’t be too pleased with Arctic expeditioners.
When we learned that folks crossing the polar ice cap for research (thank goodness someone is doing it) subsist largely on such delicacies as lard balls and butter sticks, we just had to find out more. To learn about this greasy business, we sat down with Smith, an expeditioner, noted author, and anthropology professor at Portland State University.
MDA: What do you eat on an expedition? Why fat?
Smith: “I do eat a lot of fat, because of the three foods you can eat (fat, carbs and protein), you can simply get the most calories per unit from fat, and when you’re dragging every calorie you will have access to in the next 40 days in your sled, you have to pack in as many calories as possible. My colleague, Charles Sullivan, and I make rations from store-bought bulk goods, mixed in various formulas. Note that each breakfast, lunch, and dinner normally has as much as a half stick of butter in it!”
MDA: What is the biggest health challenge, or challenges, one faces in an extreme circumstance such as your expedition?
Smith: “The main worry is to prevent my core body temperature from dropping below a certain point; once you get really, deeply chilled, it can be hard to come back. It’s hard to be sure of how close you are to the line, because as you drift towards hypothermia, you start to get a little loopy. So I have to be very conscious of my state of mind.”
MDA: Is anxiety or stress an issue? Is energy the primary challenge?
Smith: “Fear and stress are significant, and I have to juggle them consciously. But, of course, in part I’m there for stress: I come alive when the pressure is on, and I love to solve awkward, clumsy, terrible problems in the wilderness. That, to me, is adventure; solving unexpected problems, with minimal resources.”
MDA: Do you jazz up the butter to make it more palatable?
Smith: “Nope – I quaff down the food like you wouldn’t believe. While it’s good to have the food taste good, I really inhale it by the time I get to eating, and rarely take time for the luxury of taste.”
MDA: Do people criticize this temporary diet, or do you have the endorsement of doctors/experts?
Smith: “Neither – I wouldn’t care what any expert had to say, to be honest. I don’t eat this way all the time, and anyway, there’s just no other on my expeditions; this kind of eating is the price you pay to travel in these spectacular places, and the price, to me, is well worth it.”
MDA: Based on your personal experience and your professional expertise in anthropology, what sort of nutritional guidelines do you personally follow?
Smith: “Actually, my philosophy comes from a children’s book I read when I was 10 and, like every kid at the time (in the 70s), wanted to be an astronaut. The Russian Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov was asked what he did to stay in shape, and he simply said, ‘Don’t eat like a pig, and run a little every day.’ That’s about it for me. I think more carefully about the food and exercise just before an expedition, and during it, but in the rest of my life, I run a little every day, and moderately consume whatever I like.”
Smith in preparation for a recent solo Arctic expedition.
Next, we spoke to Smith’s colleague, Charles Sullivan, who formulates these lipidacious delights.
Sullivan: “The impetus to develop these recipes came about as a response to the incredibly high price of the commercially made, freeze-dried camping meals, such as those from Mountain House and others. These cost about $7.00 for 10 ounces, and 10 ounces does not provide enough calories for a single meal on a serious expedition. The extremely low cost of my meals is a big advantage when you consider the overall costs of any expedition.
Butter is a key ingredient in all of my meals, so this can only really work in a cold environment. Otherwise the butter would go rancid. These aren’t gourmet meals, but Cameron swears by them. But I know he’ll eat most anything when he’s hungry, and enjoy it. They’re probably not something you’d want to eat at home, but after pulling a sled all day in the freezing cold, I’m sure they taste quite good.
Each meal is packaged in a one gallon, zipper-style, ziploc freezer bag. What’s nice is that the ziploc bag is the bowl. All you do is boil water and pour the boiling water into the ziploc bag. You then have to knead the bag for about five minutes before eating. A spoon is best for eating so you don’t puncture the bag.”
A sample meal: a frozen mixture of butter, seeds, nuts, ramen, potato flakes, dried hummus, and a little sugar.
Arctic expeditioners also frequently rely on meals of tallow, suet, and lard. Next time you’re feeling a little tired of olive oil, just remember…you could be kneading sticks of butter and pulling a sled across the Arctic!
A few resources about saturated fat:
(Note: These nutrition links are included as helpful information for our curious and critical Apples. While MDA supports researcher Dr. Mary Enig’s work – and that of many others – in critically examining the so-called lipid hypothesis, Smith and Sullivan do not endorse a particular position on saturated fat and cholesterol.)
Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:
We also love our Apples! Here’s the roundup, kids.
What’s the Big Omega?
This study says Omega-3′s don’t help with depression or anxiety. This study says they do, and that they help inflammation, too. What gives? Without requiring you to get a chemistry degree, here’s the basic gist of why these two studies differ:
1) Study 1 is not a study, but a review. A review can be a helpful way to make sense of a lot of different information, but it is not, in itself, a scientific study. Just tell your friends this (they’ll think you’re a total genius):
Reviews are problematic because they tend to look at studies that are conducted under different circumstances – it’s sort of like comparing apples to oranges and asking if they’re like a banana.
A review can provide some insight, but that’s usually about all. You’ll notice that many of the more sensational health news items (vitamins kill you! tea is a magic cure!) often come from reviews. We like that Study 1 points out that low-quality fish oil supplements are a problem because they’re often contaminated with pollutants like mercury. Plus, they cause burping and fish breath – sexy! You do get what you pay for, so buy the best.
2) Study 2 is an actual study, and though small, it’s a good one in a series of rigorous studies conducted by Ohio U. Unlike Denmark, we love these guys and gals from Ohio, because they are so methodical about their research (we are allowed to pick on Denmark because their studies are suspiciously pro-Pharma; also, we keep a Dane on staff). They found that it’s the balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fats that is critical to good health. Interestingly, the healthiest, slimmest cultures around the world consistently reflect this – but, that’s a very good example of an empirical review! Helpful, but not scientific. Good science means backing it up – check out our Q&A on fish oil for more info.
Mark’s been talking about this whole fat balance issue for a good long while, so if you want to learn more, definitely check out the Study 2 link. Or click this for a selection of all the lovely good fat musings we provide on (frankly) an obsessive basis.
Oh Yeah, and the Rest of the News
Obesity: such a problem, dangerous drugs banned in Britain are being prescribed off-label…to kids! Our suggestion: cut out the snacks, turn off the TV, and get those munchkins into a sport!
Meditation: it’s scientifically proven to beat stress. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to enjoy it. Here’s an enjoyable little read that tells you how to do it and why it helps.
Caffeine and soda: it’s no secret that we have a bit of a problem with soda ’round these parts. Rosie, Tami and the rest of the brilliant gang at the Los Angeles Times health desk brought our attention to a must-read article on caffeine, soda companies’ disclosure of said caffeine, and all that this entails…
See you tomorrow!
Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:
What a great Monday! There’s a lot of interesting clickativity today, with one thing in common: all the news is big!
Click it out:
One More Reason Chocolate Is Great
Science Daily reports that a cocoa discovery may have greater implications for human health than penicillin. Yes, you read that correctly – chocolate may be the biggest health boon…ever.
More research needs to be done, of course, but remember these healthy chocolate pointers:
- Stick with dark chocolate (it’s lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants)
- Stick to small portions (chocolate, like cheese and nuts, is very high in calories)
Huge Omega-3 News for the Little Tykes
Thanks to That’s Fit for reporting on a major new study hot off the presses: omega-3 supplements are not only necessary for children’s brain development, these vital fats, in supplement form, yield major results. You’ll be surprised at how major – the scientists were.
What Is Being Done About Spinach and Peanut Butter?
The FDA issued voluntary guidelines today in the hopes that food manufacturers will clean up their act. Legislation isn’t being, er, ruled out, but the hope is that voluntary guidelines will be effective.
Web It Out:
A very entertaining and interesting article debunks online dating services that claim to use highly-accurate psychological matching. Not only is it entertaining, it’s also a good way to learn about scientific accuracy (or, in this case, the lack of it) in studies.
No doubt you’ve seen the major news out today that the Atkins diet is significantly more effective for weight loss than higher-carb diets promoted by the likes of Dr. Dean Ornish and Barry Sears. As you’d expect, Ornish says the study is flawed. Sears says the study is bad science. That’s fine, boys. The Atkins followers not only lost weight, they were healthier by the end of the year.
Both Sears and Ornish take issue with the fact that compliance in the study was, at best, half-hearted (meaning the ladies who participated didn’t exactly follow the various plans to the letter).
My response to that is: all the more evidence that upping your protein and fat intake is a wise idea. If you can lose weight, lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk of heart disease, and you don’t even have to follow your diet perfectly…where’s the problem?
A year-long study compared four different diets – Atkins, LEARN (Uncle Sam’s feel-good acronym will not leave you feeling good), the Zone, and Ornish’s bread-buffet regimen. At the end of the year, Atkins followers lost about twice the weight of the other participants. This is no big surprise – it’s yet another study that proves what I’ve been saying for years: cut the carbs.
Critics – mainly, Sears and Ornish – are, as I expected, getting lost in the details and ignoring the big, fat elephant in the room. They point out that ten pounds of weight loss instead of five pounds of weight loss is no big deal.
Well, okay, but that depends on your perspective – I’m willing to bet good money that had the results of the study gone in their favor, they’d be singing a different tune. Instead of “10 pounds is no big deal,” we’d hear: “Double the weight loss – this is huge!” Instead of a “flawed” study, we’d hear: “We’re talking about a long-term, year-long, significant study!” And instead of splitting hairs about the lack of 100% compliance, my guess is that Ornish and Co. would say “This is a realistic study that looks at how people actually follow diets, rather than perfect, artificial conditions in a lab.”
So, while the pasta-and-bread fans are crying to Uncle Sam, here’s the question the rest of us are smart enough to ask:
Why are doctors so afraid of fat?
The overwhelming majority of studies – of all shapes, sizes and ulterior motives – supports, again and again, the case for a high-fat, high-protein diet for humans. And if the weight loss isn’t enough, those who enjoy bacon and butter also lower their cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors.
Doesn’t anyone in the carb camp ever stop and think – wait a minute, why are we subscribing to the low-fat, low-cholesterol dietary model to begin with? (People more cynical than me will note that the corn and wheat industries are among the most powerful lobbies, and the most heavily subsidized industries, in the world.)
How much more evidence is it going to take? Is their low-fat, high-grain diet working for them? After 50-odd years of various high-grain versions of the Prudent Diet, has the approach proven efficacious? Or are we worse off than ever? Come on, guys.
A caveat: I am not in favor of living exclusively on processed bacon and copious amounts of butter. And I am absolutely not saying that vegetarians are misguided (well, maybe a little), or that eating processed meats high in sodium, refined fats and nitrites is a good nutrition plan.
But Bob Atkins was certainly on to something, and study after study proves: reducing sugar and increasing fat and protein will not only make you slimmer, it’ll make you healthier. Check out my buddy Jimmy Moore’s story over at Livin La Vida Low Carb. Jimmy lost a whopping 200 pounds and has experienced a new lease on life since going low-carb. And he’s healthier for it.
I don’t think the question, with all we now know, should be “Does Atkins work”? Obviously, it does. The question we ought to be asking is, “Clearly, fat and protein aren’t so bad. Clearly Bob was on to something. How do we do it the right way?”
Reducing carbohydrates produces appreciable results. Blood sugar drops. HDL increases. Blood pressure drops. Weight falls off. The heart benefits. Why?
Dr. Mary Enig, a terrific researcher, has been challenging the Prudent Diet and the famous “lipid hypothesis” (the theory that fat = high cholesterol = heart disease) for years. She’s been ridiculed. Harassed. Ignored. She’s also been right this entire time.
It’s not cholesterol that is causing the problem here. It’s inflammation. Inflammation is a factor in diabetes, heart disease, arthritis – in fact, most of the major health problems Americans face in skyrocketing numbers. Do you know what causes inflammation?
Sugar. (And refined fats – anything that creates oxidation or triggers an inflammatory response.) Make no mistake: sugar is a toxin. The human body will burn only so much glucose – when we get too much, sugar moves to fat cells. It ravages the bloodstream, attacks the pancreas and thyroid and liver, and sets off a chain reaction that inflammation attempts to correct. Sugar, rather than being the base of the American diet (remember, grains – even whole grains – are metabolized, ultimately, as sugar), ought to be at the very top of the pyramid in the section we reserve for “toxins”, right up there with alcohol and cigarettes. Grains – sugar – create a toxic inflammatory environment very similar to what you see with alcoholics. A little inflammation from time to time can be beneficial – it’s the body’s natural healing mechanism.
Trouble is, the inflammatory benefit quickly disappears, because the body keeps getting inundated with sugar. A little inflammation – like the swelling and redness that you get if you stub your toe – is a beneficial thing. But persistent inflammation is a body on fire.
By this point, the human body is literally “freaking out”, as my kids would say. If you’re a typical American, your body has been flooded for years now with a double-whammy oxidative assault of sugar and refined fats (trans fat). The inflammatory response has set you up for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Your body has one last way to attempt to correct this persistent inflammation.
That’s cholesterol. Cholesterol is literally analogous to the scab that forms when you cut yourself. Cholesterol attempts to “scab” over the inflammation going on all over your body. It’s the body’s desperate attempt to extinguish the fire.
Ironically, a low-fat, high-carb diet only worsens the problem.
Imagine that all this is true. If I’m right, what would happen to a body in this state? Why, aside from likely diabetes, obesity and other problems, you’d have higher cholesterol, too. The more inflamed your insides become, the more cholesterol your body produces as it desperately tries to quell the abuse to your system.
Doctors like Ornish and guys like Sears drive me nuts. A basic understanding of the human body (which I know they possess), along with (more important) a willingness to be open-minded and accept the evidence that the lipid hypothesis was probably wrong, would go a long way towards explaining the “perplexing” results of studies like this one. I’d like to pry open their brains and yell: guys, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…it’s probably sugar.
Tomorrow, I’ll be bringing you my suggestions for doing “low carb” the right way – sausage and bacon ain’t it. Later this week, be sure to catch my posts on why variety isn’t necessary, why longevity misses the boat, and more thoughts guaranteed to piss off your HMO, your doctor, and your government.
This post was brought to you by the Damage Control Master Formula, independently proven as the most comprehensive high-potency antioxidant multivitamin available anywhere. With the highest antioxidant per dollar value and a complete anti-aging, stress, and cognition profile, the Master Formula is truly the only multivitamin supplement you will ever need. Toss out the drawers full of dozens of different supplements with questionable potency and efficacy and experience the proven Damage Control difference!
Smart Fuel, Just in Time for the Weekend…
Want skin that Cindy Crawford would be jealous of? Eat fat. That’s right – fat! Many of us, especially women, tend to avoid fat because we’ve been told it’s bad for us. Mark will be posting later today on the fat debate (would you expect anything less than ornery here at Mark’s Daily Apple?), but for now, here’s our suggestion: fat is your friend!
Keep in mind the type of fat you eat is very important. Fried foods and processed items tend to be high in “bad” fats – the kind that clog arteries, release free radicals in your body, and stimulate inflammation. But good fats – heaven be praised – can prevent disease, help you lose weight, and make your skin positively glow. Sound too good to be true? Nope. Good fats really can help with all those health goals.
Here are some “good” fats you can eat to feel great starting this weekend:
Animal fats top the list: think tallow, lard, fish oil.
Other great fats:
Other good fats:
Organic yogurt and cottage cheese. These dairy products are typically easier to digest than cheese or milk. Be sure to get the sugar-free varieties of yogurt. Although dairy isn’t rich in Omega-3 fatty acids like fish or nuts, there are other valuable fats. And science reveals that the proportions of various fats in the diet are more important than any single fat. Fats work better together than alone.
Now, admittedly, we’ve been on a bit of an Omega-3 tear this week, but that’s because we see people missing out on these fantastic fats. Fat’s not bad. Far from it – so enjoy! You’ll sleep better, your skin will be radiant, your organs will love you, and your waistline might even shrink a bit. Magical things happen when Omega-3 fats come to town: headaches run in fright, bad moods slink away, and spare tires get rolling.
© 2013 Mark's Daily Apple | Design By The Blog Studio