Marks Daily Apple
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Mark's Daily Apple

18 May

Lard Balls & Other Culinary Delights

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.”

smith2

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.”

buttah

This is Paul W’s Flickr Photo

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:

Mainstream wisdom

Dr. Enig challenges the lipid hypothesis: is saturated fat the problem?

The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics

(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.)

Cameron Smith’s website
Amazon book listing
Charles Sullivan’s website

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17 May

My Carb Pyramid

carbpyr

It’s not fancy, but it gives you a general idea of my daily diet. This super-veggie routine, supplemented with protein and healty fats, has kept me lean, muscular, strong, and healthy for many years now. (I can whip most guys half my age in a fitness test.)

I generally enjoy mostly raw vegetables, hence my giant daily salad. As I always say, real men eat lettuce. My salad alone usually includes several cups of greens, plus 2 or 3 additional cups of other vegetables like colorful bell peppers, artichokes, asparagus, and tomatoes. Dinner is often a stir fry or steamed vegetables with some fish or chicken. I also enjoy grass-fed beef. I’m not really a pasta or pizza guy. I genuinely love fresh, unprocessed food.

I eat DHA-enhanced organic eggs several days a week, often with spinach or tomatoes. I’m not a big breakfast person so some days I miss them. At lunch, I top my salads with wild salmon, smoked salmon, tuna, turkey – I’m a meat eater that favors animal protein. I eat plenty of lean animal and plant proteins at each meal, and several servings of healthy fats like avocados and olive oil, too. I also eat a little organic butter, organic full-fat yogurt (such as Greek yogurt), and sometimes a little kefir or cheese. I am not a snacker, though I do enjoy berries, raw almonds and my protein shake, Responsibly Slim (I toss in a banana, berries, and sometimes flaxseeds).

It seems to work for me. Not bad for a retired athlete!

Best of MDA

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17 May

Are There Any Good Carbs?

Fruits Are Not the Devil, and Other Carb Concerns

Although I espouse a fairly “low-carb” lifestyle for optimal health and a lean physique, this certainly means different things to different people. For some it means a strict Atkins-style diet of virtually no carbs, save for green vegetables. For others it means the inclusion of fruits, starchy vegetables such as yams, and legumes. For others it means any and all carbs – grains, rice, beans, pasta – that are complex or “whole grain” rather than refined and processed (pastries, crackers, breads, white pasta).

My “low-carb” philosophy is essentially grounded in my belief in fresh, whole, natural foods. In other words, a lot of plants. Organic, grass-fed or wild animal products (eggs, beef, salmon) are also included in my “natural” categorization. I’m not at all opposed to carbs that are from vegetables; the American diet is sorely lacking in adequate vegetable intake and it’s lunacy to avoid vegetables in the hopes of losing weight, as many low-carb dieters do. Since I believe fiber is king when it comes to health, I’m all for eating 6 servings of veggies daily – at a minimum. I recommend fresh or frozen vegetables and a small amount of starchy vegetables and legumes for your daily diet.

meal

This is Svanes’ Flickr Photo

But, I personally don’t encourage the consumption of grains, even whole grains. I think an occasional slice of sprouted-grain bread is fine, particularly if you’re an avid exerciser (and I hope you are). Additionally, I think the lectin fears about grains are rather overblown (another one of those marginal nutrition areas like wine, coffee, and dark chocolate). But a combination of vegetables and lean proteins offer more antioxidants, vitamins, protein, fat and even fiber (surprise!) than do grains.

This type of diet is easier for most humans to digest, as wheat gluten in particular is not friendly to the G.I. tract. Grains stimulate improper liver, thyroid, and pancreas responses in many people, and grains can also foster reduced immunity, fungal infections, skin problems, anxiety, depression and weight gain. Vegetables and lean proteins are more readily handled by your liver and pancreas, among other organs. Coupled with some much-needed beneficial fats such as organic butter, olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fish oil supplements, a vegetable-and-protein based diet is the most respectful to the human design. Consuming crackers, pasta and breads – even those manufactured with whole grains – is simply not ideal for the human body.

That said, other carbohydrates beside vegetables are, in fact, quite healthy – even some starchy ones such as yams, brown rice, and legumes. My concern is that many people rely on mostly refined and/or whole grains for their fiber intake and tend to “add in” some vegetables, when it ought to be the other way around. When it comes to vegetable sources of carbohydrates, we Americans favor starchy barely-vegetables like potatoes and corn. (Corn, by the way, is actually a grain, and a very low-protein, high-sugar grain at that.) Vegetables are a far superior source of carbohydrate because they do not impact blood sugar to the extent that grains do, they have important antioxidants and phytonutrients, they have far fewer calories, they are easier to digest, and they often have more fiber.

cukesalad

This is Laurel Fan’s Flickr Photo

Clearly, we need to be eating more vegetables. But it’s perfectly reasonable to eat some starchy vegetables and legumes on a daily basis, provided you are at a healthy weight you feel comfortable with, provided you exercise enough to burn your calories effectively, and provided you are not fighting diabetes or trying to reduce elevated blood sugar or triglycerides. If stress, inflammation, high triglycerides, type 2 diabetes or elevated blood sugar are medical conditions you are striving to overcome, you would do well to consider both eliminating grains and limiting starchy vegetables and legumes. And absolutely avoid the refined grains!

So, yes, there are plenty of “good” carbs. I don’t think eating bacon and steak is the path to fabulous health; no extreme diet is. (Although, it’s interesting to think about why we define certain things as extreme. What is extreme?)

I have my own version of the food pyramid. I call it my carb pyramid.

– At the base are vegetables – 6-11 servings daily.

– In the middle are things like legumes, brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, tempeh, soybeans, and oatmeal. Also in this category are the “whole grains” like sprouted bread, whole-wheat pasta, corn, and whole-grain crackers. These are best on a very infrequent basis or, if you have any of the previously mentioned health issues, not at all.

– And at the top are the no-no’s: pastries, cookies, cake, sweet sauces, breading, candy, sweetened beverages, white bread, white pasta, juice, chips.

A Word on Fruits

A reader recently emailed me about the issue of dried fruits. Are dried figs, dates, raisins, cranberries, apricots and the like a wise idea for those interested in health and weight loss?

Sure. The key is to realize that dried fruits are extremely caloric, and very high in natural sugars. Fruit is healthy, but fresh fruit provides more water content and fewer calories than dried fruit. Like fats, dried fruits are very nutritionally dense, so you don’t want to eat more than a handful now and then. I think a few servings a week of dried fruits is not a big deal at all – fruit is a natural, fiber-rich, vitamin-loaded food source. But because it is high in sugar – especially those dried fruits – you want to be careful to favor vegetables over fruits. Fruits taste better than vegetables to many people because fruits are so sweet. Who doesn’t love fruit? I do. But it’s important to make sure that, on balance, more of your plant carbohydrates are coming from vegetables. I think one or two fruit servings daily is plenty. Dried fruit is often the equivalent of four or five servings of fruit, so I’d recommend enjoying them just once or twice a week.

The other important thing to remember is that diet is not the only factor in weight management and good health. If you work out several times a week, not only will you live longer, boost immunity, reduce stress, and strengthen your bones and muscles, you’ll speed up your metabolism. If you don’t work out, you probably would need to live on steak and bacon and limited greens to lose weight. If you exercise, you can usually afford some starchy carbohydrates and certainly some fruit. Don’t overlook the vital necessity of exercise.

Note: if you’re one of the lucky devils to have a speedy metabolism that keeps you on the too-thin side of lean, enjoy fruits and starchy vegetables and legumes for those extra calories, but increase your fat intake a bit. This will help keep your blood sugar and triglycerides in balance.

Best of MDA

Everything I’ve Ever Said About Carbs

What do you think?

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16 May

A Case of the Clicks

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:

The daily clickativity is in!

Skin Deep Gets a Polish

Skin Deep – perhaps the most user-friendly, accurate personal care database on the web – has been revamped and updated. Be sure to check out this excellent resource for information on the safety and ingredients of virtually every cosmetic and personal care product available.

Is Coffee Healthy?

The ongoing java debate gets a fresh take with this helpful, thorough review from Integrative Medicine. It’s the best summary of the pros and cons of coffee consumption that we’ve found yet. Our take: coffee is another one of those “marginal nutrition” issues, like red wine or chocolate. There is likely some benefit, but taken to excess, probably some harm, too. Either way, “marginal nutrition” fads are not going to cure major health issues; nor, sadly, will they prevent bad television. (Or will we have to eat our words?)

coffee 1

This is Gayatri’s Flickr Photo

Trans Fat Ban

Thus far, several major U.S. cities have taken steps to ban trans fat in restaurants. Now, a whole county says no to Frankenfats.

chickenmcheartattack

This is Deovolenti’s Flickr Photo. Aptly described as: “Chicken McHeartAttack”!

Web it out:

Guess who needs more estrogen?

Obvious Studies R Us: Congratulations, Decision Analyst, your firm has won a Sherlock Award!

MOTO

Top 25 Posts Here at Mark’s Daily Apple

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