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.)
Jimmy Moore stops in…
On the plate for today: cheating, pasta, and those darn vegetarians!
Ok, the question everyone asks: Don’t you ever miss pasta? Do you ever cheat?
“You know, I have always found the ‘don’t you ever miss’ questions people have for me so incredibly fascinating. Is there some mysterious super-secret book of foods everyone should be eating floating around out there that mandates human beings must eat pasta, bread, potatoes, and sugar?
The fact is, I do not miss ANYTHING from my old diet that would lead me to start ballooning up over 400 pounds again. Nope! Not gonna happen if I can do anything about it (and I can!).
However, I have found two excellent pasta substitutes that are low-carb and taste awesome. For Italian dishes and traditional pasta, I enjoy the Dreamfields brand because it really does taste like authentic pasta, unlike some of these other imitators that have much higher carbs and are totally disgusting.
Another pasta substitute I enjoy, especially in soups and Oriental dishes, is Shirataki noodles. These Japanese wonder noodles are one of the hottest new health foods out today because they are very low in carbs, fat, and calories. Made from yam root (sounds grosser than it is) and loaded with fiber, these noodles give me all the pasta goodness I need.
As for cheating, on principle I am against it when it is done spontaneously. That kinda defeats the purpose of making this a permanent ‘lifestyle change’. But I do advocate something that is controversial within the low-carb community called a ‘planned splurge’ or ‘controlled cheating’.
The basic concept is to allow yourself one meal about every 6-8 weeks while you are losing weight when you are allowed to eat whatever you want. No restrictions on carbs, calories, portions, or anything else. I used this strategy to get me through the toughest moments and it helped me in the long run.
If you are having deep cravings, as all of us who have kicked our carb addiction will tell you comes at you with a vengeance, then having the knowledge that there is a date coming up soon when I can satisfy that craving gave me the strength to resist temptation. This is a powerful tool that I highly recommend to anyone who thinks they can never live without whatever food they love.
Don’t get me wrong – this is for ONE meal, not a whole day or a whole weekend. One single meal and then right back on plan again. Making this a permanent way of eating is absolutely crucial to your success at not just losing the weight, but keeping it off for good.
What if a vegetarian wants to do low-carb?
Contrary to popular belief, a vegetarian can most certainly fit right in to the low-carb lifestyle by consuming those foods that they can have. Far too often, the low-carb diet is stereotyped as a meat-based diet. Sure, many active low-carbers include meat in their diet because they can. But it’s not necessarily a requirement.
What would I recommend? Eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, cauliflower, green leafy vegetables, blueberries, melon, strawberries, green beans, broccoli, cantaloupe…need I go on? Sure, your food choices are diminished somewhat on a low-carb diet if you forsake the meat, but there’s really no excuse why you couldn’t enjoy a healthy low-carb lifestyle and maintain your convictions as a vegetarian.
Being a vegan, on the other hand, you’re just outta luck!
Let’s talk about the difference between “healthy” low-carb and “unhealthy” low-carb.
This is an interesting subject and can be debated quite passionately by people on both sides of the spectrum. But I take a different approach to this subject as someone who actually lived it and found great success.
I’m a big believer in incrementalism when it comes to making changes. As much as all the experts in diet and health would like overweight and obese people to “flip the switch” and transition from an unhealthy eater into a healthy one overnight, it just doesn’t work that way. If it did, then NOBODY would be fat anymore.
The person must first get out of health danger by bringing their weight under control first, even if that means eating some processed foods along the way. Then they can begin making tweaks here and there to their diet after they have become used to eating healthy perhaps for the first time in their lives. I don’t see any reason why we should rush the process because this will be a lifetime commitment in the end.
If you could recommend 3 changes every person should make in his/her lifestyle, diet or fitness routine, what would those changes be?
This is an easy one:
One: Don’t diet or you’ll DIE in the process. Regardless of the specific plan you choose, decide ahead of time that you REALLY want to do this, learn all you can, and then keep doing that plan for the rest of your life.
Two: As much as you think you can’t do it right now, totally give up your sugar habit RIGHT NOW. Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are nearly single-handedly ruining the weight and health of tens of millions of Americans today. Get ‘em out of your life TODAY because they are rat poison for your body.
Three: Whatever you are doing to try to lose weight, don’t ever give up! If you are following a plan that just ain’t working for you, then try something else. But always stay in the game and learn from every experience you go through. I have no doubt in my mind that there is SOMETHING that will work to help every single person with a weight problem shed the pounds for good. The trick is to find what that plan is for you and then never get off that plan again. You can do it!
What do you believe is the biggest myth about low-carbin’?
Besides the supposed heart health and cholesterol issues you mentioned earlier, the new myth that opponents of livin’ la vida low-carb have been floating around out there lately goes something like this: ‘Sure, low-carb diets can certainly be good for short-term weight loss, but the long-term implications of such as ‘extreme’ diet like that are suspect.’
I actually heard a major health expert (a low-fat diet proponent) in the United States utter that exact sentence following the release of the now-infamous JAMA study out of Stanford University that found the Atkins diet was the best diet for weight loss and improved health over a one-year period. But the myth is the diet suddenly stops working at the end of those 365 days. How ludicrous!
It has now been over three years and counting since I began livin’ la vida low-carb and it’s still performing quite well for both my weight and my health. This is the longest period of time I have ever been able to sustain my weight loss.”
Thanks for stopping by MDA to share your views, Jimmy. Always a pleasure.
I’d like to add that I personally do not advocate any processed foods (bacon, sausage, cheese) nor do I support carb “alternatives” like Shirataki and Dreamfields pasta. However, I agree that it’s pretty tough (if not impossible) to go cold-turkey for the many millions of us who have spent a lifetime living on pasta, bagels, burritos and burgers.
I’ve been there, believe me. As a professional athlete, there were days where no carton of ice cream stood a chance of a snow cone in…well, you get the idea.
In my peak triathlon years, pasta and pancakes were the Holy Grail of competition, and I suffered tremendous problems as a result (as did many, if not most, of my fellow athletes). I look at the younger generation of athletes and sadly, not a lot has changed. You’d be surprised at how many “perfect” athletes are just as sick, stressed, inflamed and at risk of serious health problems as regular Joes and Janes living on what I call the Uncle Sam Sampler (carbs, carbs and more carbs).
Transitioning from a fine-tuned (yet completely unhealthy) competitive machine to a healthier, sustainable fitness level and dietary lifestyle wasn’t easy, but it was infinitely worth the choice. You do have to make a total paradigm shift – it’s not a diet that will get you the results you want. It’s a lifestyle.
The big problem with weight loss plans – and why they almost all ultimately fail – is that we often have no long-term plan. We think “diet”. We hope for fast, measurable results.
But where’s the long-term plan? As so many self-help gurus like to preach, if you always do what you’ve always done, why would anyone expect a different result than what you’ve always gotten?
A diet is not the path to the health or body you want. A lifestyle, on the other hand, can be. So, while I don’t endorse processed foods and “faux” carbs, I do endorse doing whatever it takes in the short term to get you healthy in the long term (well, within reason!). Are you hoping for quick results, or are you truly willing to change your life – for life? It’s a question that has to be asked, because it means the difference between failure and success, and many of us forget to ask.
Most Popular Posts
A doctor weighs in on the HRT-cancer connection. The controversy isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
I recommend reading the whole interview if this is an area of interest for you. What caught my attention is the subtle pro-drug stance the interview appears to take, while simultaneously bringing out revealing facts like the following:
Q. Was it a surprise to learn that estrogen and progestins can cause breast cancer?
A. We’ve known there is a cause and effect with hormones and breast cancer since 1896.
On the plus side, the article effectively details the pathology of breast cancer, explaining the difference between estrogen and progesterine’s effects in lay terms. If you’ve found the issue confusing, give this article 10 minutes of your time. The article also fairly points out that the “entire epidemiology” of breast cancer shifted when HRT was introduced and again when it was found to be dangerous.
My concerns regarding current HRT therapies, however, remain:
1) The cancer-hormone connection has long been known.
2) The body was not designed to handle artificial hormone interference with the natural regulatory processes that come with aging. That’s not my opinion; that’s fact. Start tinkering with the body and all kinds of things can happen. Of course, I recommend other, natural therapies to combat aging-related issues (including menopause): exercise, sensible supplementation, and sound dietary choices. We’ll get into those in detail soon.
3) The entire tone of the interview is what I find so offensive about the medical industry: if one drug doesn’t work, hey, take another! Subtle though it is – again, the article does promote plenty of helpful information – it’s clear that mainstream medical practitioners are loathe to “call out” even the most pressing health scandals, evidently preferring to tread lightly lest they offend the pharmaceutical suits. Of course, five or ten years from now, everyone will be talking about the dangers of HRT without hesitation, but for now, it’s a politically-correct parade.
The icing on the cake: after discussing the various issues surrounding HRT, the interview brings up the issue of osteoporosis (since many women took HRT to address this health condition) and suggests alternative drugs as the solution. It’s par for the course for Big Pharma.
Here at MDA, we define “premium” as something peerless. Without equal. Really, really good for you – the absolute best. We believe in living life that way.
Evidently, McDonald’s defines premium as peerless and without equal, too. As in, a really, really good way to get that nifty obesity look everyone’s working these days.
Although no scientists were permanently harmed in the deliberation of today’s Impossible Calorie Award, a few of them did need to be sent on vacation.
McDonald’s “premium” chicken strips are 100% white meat. Fabulous. This “premium” product comes packed with 1270 calories in the bigger size (and who would order only 3 strips?). Visit this clickativity and be premiumed like you’ve never been premiumed before.
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