Apples are asking what I think about bread. The short answer: not very much. But this is an ongoing issue worthy of some debate, so let’s get it started:
In general, the best source of carbohydrates is a vegetable, not a grain (unless you are an athlete, in which case, you’re probably just trying to consume as many calories as possible).
Among other things, grains contain lectins, a mild toxin (is there such a thing as a mild toxin?). Technically, grains don’t “want” to be your next meal. They didn’t really evolve to be our food source – we humans exploited them when we figured out how easy they were to grow. Consequently, they’re in everything – especially processed foods – because they’re cheap and can be made into just about anything, from sauces to syrups to candies to side dishes.
It’s not for nothing that our ancestors ate only flesh (meat and fish), nuts, roots, fruits and berries, and grabbed at wild greens for fiber. In fact, there’s a whole dietary movement – sometimes called the Caveman diet, sometimes the Paleo diet – we cautiously subscribe to (I’m uncomfortable with extreme diets, though I also am uncomfortable with how we define “extreme”!) Why? Grains are a relatively new thing for humans, and the evidence increasingly points to the notion that this isn’t a good development. If you’re into learning more, check out our Carbs category.
I recommend that you stick to zero grains a day. On the whole, I stick to vegetables for my carbs – I just don’t really “do” carbs. Vegetables have far more vitamins, fiber and minerals than grain-sourced carbohydrates, and they are much lower in calories, giving you room for protein and vital fat. Vegetables also keep your blood sugar levels at a healthy, low level, so you don’t start pumping your pancreas to death.
Scientists point out that the human body was designed to subsist on a mixture of fresh vegetables, good fats (from nuts, fish, oils, and meats), and protein (from fresh meats, beans, a little dairy, and fish). Add in plenty of water, occasional fruit, and you’re set. On the whole, avoid the processed, unnatural, refined, sugary stuff. Try it for just one week and you’ll notice a big difference – really.
Evolution is all about adaptation – to the environment, to circumstances, to stress and even (or especially) to food. In this context of adaptation, it’s truly amazing how “inventive” the human body has become in finding novel (and perhaps heretofore uncontemplated) ways to repair damage we do to ourselves through our diets and other lifestyle indiscretions. And most of these changes are less than a few hundred years old, which makes the adaptations even more remarkable.
Let’s use cholesterol as an example. Cholesterol is actually very beneficial. Among other duties, it’s a necessary component of every cell membrane and it’s involved in hormone production. The body makes about 1400 mg a day just to keep up!
Now let’s take a stressful lifestyle (show of hands, please), add in a bad diet and lack of exercise and we get an inflammatory process in the arteries that causes lesions. This inflammation problem is completely unrelated to amounts or types of cholesterol.
Nevertheless, the ever-inventive human body adapts to this inflammation sequence by using cholesterol as a band-aid to cover up the lesions until healing can take place – which, of course, almost never happens since the silly human continues to live the same pro-inflammatory lifestyle. Eventually, the cholesterol band-aids harden (sclerosis), narrow the arteries and sometimes break off causing a heart attack.
Of course, we blame the cholesterol for all this and embark on a national campaign to rid the body of this important substance instead of focusing on the foods (and other stresses) that promote inflammation in the first place!
Now let’s consider fat. For years we believed fat was nothing more than nature’s way of storing extra calories for some future famine. That would be a handy little adaptation in and of itself if that’s all it were. But when you do the math, you see that it doesn’t require a lot of fat to survive or even migrate for long periods. A 165-pound person with only 13% body fat has 21.45 pounds of fat. Being generous and assuming that you need a minimum 3% just to carry on basic survival functions, that leaves 10% or 16.5 pounds of fat to live off. At 3500 calories per pound of fat and 100 calories per mile walking, you’d theoretically have enough fat to survive weeks and migrate several hundred miles.
So maybe fat has another purpose, and this is where my friend Art De Vany’s description of fat as a toxic waste site (my words) comes in. Modern humans have so thoroughly altered foods to focus on simple carbohydrates (sugars) that we now consume hundreds of excess grams of it every day.
As Art has explained, the body recognizes excess sugar (glucose) as a toxic load – and remember, it doesn’t take a whole lot of it to be excessive – and the body starts the adaptive process of secreting insulin to take sugar out of the bloodstream and deposit it into the muscles.
Two problems arise immediately:
First, there’s not a lot of room in those muscles. Ask any athlete who’s ever tried to carbo-load for an event. Secondly, most people aren’t athletes and have lost significant utility of their muscle through atrophy, further diminishing storage. Furthermore, they don’t burn off the already-stored glycogen because they don’t exercise.
But here’s where the body has become so elegantly adaptive once again. It creates little storage facilities in the form of additional fat cells. Not because it’s trying to store calories for some future famine, as modern medicine might have you believe, but because it’s trying to find novel and effective ways to rid the body of this very toxic glucose excess.
And it’s a pretty good solution. Insulin allows glucose access to these fat cells which grow larger and more numerous over time. Problem is, it’s always one step behind, so the fat cells fill up just as the muscle filled up, leaving excess glucose in the bloodstream after the next high carb or high calorie meal until more fat cells can be made.
And so the spiral continues as 40 million Americans are headed towards type 2 diabetes.
MY 12-YEAR-OLD MANAGES TO DO IT, AND HE’S PROBABLY TAUGHT THE DOG
A recent piece in the Los Angeles Times just goes to show how much room for improvement there is in the medical business…that is, the medical establishment. (Sometimes I have to remind myself.) The gist of the article is that doctors are among the most resistant to using email. Teachers, professors, lawyers – even car mechanics are more likely to use email as a way to improve and increase communication with their students, clients and customers. Yet when it comes to giving patients a helping hand by opening up the lines of communication, the medical establishment is exceptionally hesitant. Evidently, this “new” email technology is so advanced, you’ll just have to be (pun alert)…patient.
One of the Bees put it bluntly: “What is it with the medical industry’s refusal to join the world we all actually live in?”
Now, I understand that hospitals might be worried about their practitioners being inundated or wasting precious time. Like teachers, cops and nurses, docs have plenty of paperwork to do already. Here’s the obvious challenge: doesn’t that signify a need for innovation, not resistance?
Frankly, I was surprised when my G.P. volunteered his personal email address. (He’s one of the scant 25% of doctors who use email with patients.) I’ve challenged him on some things, sent him some studies, and he’s gained insights. Likewise, I’ve learned really valuable “insider” information about drugs, medical history, and what doctors really think about their patients.
Hospital and HMO executives say that the “danger” of email is that it could become very time-intensive and run the risk of burdening doctors with administrative questions instead of health questions. There’s also the issue of liability. And of being a grown-up.
But the Times article found that, generally at least, doctors are open to email. Here’s the real deal: It’s not the doctors who have a problem with it – it’s the executives. These are big boys and girls, and when they cop to pathetic excuses like “these things are just very new” – I’m actually embarrassed for them. Very new? Yes, just like cell phones and CDs.
Wouldn’t email be a great way to make the patient and doctor invest more in each other? I’m sure some whiz 20-year-old out there could even come up with some cool community interface not unlike what we’re doing here.
Of course, that would require taking some responsibility.
Something I read in the New York Times the other day got me steamed faster than fresh spinach. Apparently, fish oil prescriptions are not only standard practice in Europe – they’re handed out like candy corn on Halloween – but heart patients who don’t get a prescription can actually sue for malpractice.
Pure fish oil is so clearly supported by the international body of science that European doctors who don’t prescribe the stuff to anyone worried about their cardiovascular health are considered grossly incompetent.
Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies support fish oil for great health. Some of the healthiest peoples in the world – from Japan to the Mediterranean – rely heavily on fish fats for great health. Fish oil = better body is not some radical new idea, but try telling that to the American health business. Er…health establishment.
Now, this doesn’t really surprise me; after all, the safest, longest-lasting, most effective, non-drug form of birth control favored in Europe and tested safe for decades is also basically nonexistent here in the Fabulous 50. America may have the best life-saving surgery techniques in the world, but when it comes to basic illness recovery or health maintenance, one would think fish oil must be some risky, mind-altering substance right up there with caffeine and alcohol. The difference being those are both substances prescribed by doctors.
I’m not asking a lot of our federal government. I know they have lobbyists to cuddle. But would it kill anyone over at the FDA or the N.E. Journal of Medicineyness to admit that fish oil has excellent therapeutic properties for people in general and heart patients in particular, and – gasp – recommend prescribing the stuff? They accept the data. Why not recommend?
Here’s the part of the article that really burned my mocha:
“For example, on Solvay Pharmaceutical’s Web site for Omacor (a Euro fish oil supplement), the first question a user sees is ‘Are you a U.S. citizen?’
If the answer is yes, the user is sent to a page where heart attacks are not mentioned.”
I’m so thrilled with our government for censoring accurate scientific information about cardiovascular health on a European company’s website so we citizens can remain both ignorant and unhealthy. Fish fat in its pure form is vital to cardiovascular health, brain health, and the strengthening of the linings of cells. Considering the damage that free radicals and inflammation whack cells with every day, and the difficulty in getting low-mercury fish filets at the local market, wouldn’t recommending and even prescribing fish oil be a prudent thing for the medical “establishment” to do?
Thanks to Elisabeth Rosenthal at the Gray Lady (the Times) for this piece. To the rest of you, get thee to a fish oil supplement, stat!
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