Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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Category: Diet & Nutrition

What’s Up with Denmark?

Sara here. My Danish grandmother will be horrified by this post, but in my selfless devotion to you Apples, I’m taking that risk. And so, I have to ask: What is up with Denmark? (Huh? you ask. Just go with me on this.) I’ve noticed a strange trend over the last decade. This could be my own erroneous inductive research here – in fact, I actually hope so – but the Land of Lutefisk seems strangely supportive of Big Pharma and the status quo (sorry, Grams). First, two years ago, I heard about some “landmark” studies that came out of Old Dansk announcing that there is absolutely no link between autism and vaccinations containing thimerosal (a form of mercury). Nevermind that autism rates sharply increased around the same time that vaccines started being preserved with thimerosal. Nevermind that mercury poisoning symptoms and autism symptoms are virtually indistinguishable. Now, to be fair, the mercury/autism debate is hugely controversial precisely because we don’t have a definitive answer yet. I suspect the eventual conclusion may implicate thimerosal, at least as part of the equation. But, then, there was the fish study. Once again, researchers in Denmark came up with – er, concluded – that fish oil does not help those interested in reducing their heart disease risk. The study was a review, which is right up there with questionnaires in terms of scientific accuracy. Even worse, it was a review of cohort studies (cohort studies can have major problems with causation vs. correlation). Moreover, reading the fine print (not just the abstract), what the study essentially “discovered” was that people who are at a high risk for heart problems do benefit from fish oil, while people who are at a low risk do not. Now, think about that. In other words, people who don’t have a problem will not benefit from a solution. Kind of like how my grease-cutting counter disinfectant won’t do a great job of cleaning my freshly-scrubbed counters, either. But after this study was reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, amazingly, what got media attention was that fish consumption just doesn’t help heart issues. No one got excited about the additional finding that high-risk people can help their hearts with fish oil – just 40 to 60 mg a day can help! (That’s actually okay, since there are already hundreds of rigorously-conducted studies proving fish oil is good for reducing your heart disease risk.) The lesson: Apparently, 1) Create a study following less-than-ideal methodology, 2) determine absolutely nothing from it, and 3) leave out the important part and splash the meaningless part all over the news. Hey, if it looks like a duck…it might be a Danish study. Now, since then, there have been some pro-fish studies, so I’m willing to give the motherland the benefit of the doubt. Although I have seen several other pro-dairy, pro-drug, pro-status quo studies from Denmark, I will withhold judgment until more evidence presents itself. Except, now, hot off the presses, an … Continue reading “What’s Up with Denmark?”

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MEAL Act Regulation: Would It Make a Difference? (Why the Rational Will Never Work)

THOUGHTS ON THE FOOD POLICE, INFORMATION TRANSPARENCY, & RELATIVE GLUTTONY Right now, our gifted men and women in the House of Representatives are tucking into the MEAL Act, and the Senate may consider a similar measure soon. The MEAL Act (Menu Education And Labeling) is the latest clever acronym brought to you by the food police. And I have to ask myself – and you – if one more piece of litigation or legislation will do a lick of good. The MEAL Act would require restaurants with more than 20 locations to post basic nutritional information on their menus (special and seasonal food items excluded). Let’s step into the world of the MEAL Act. You mosey into McDonald’s, taking a gander at the bright, colorful panel of meal choices. Caloric information is duly noted. Choice #1: 970 calories. Choice #2: 890 calories. Choice #3: 650 calories. Let’s say you choose option 3 – hey, it’s healthier, right? Enter relative gluttony. Would caloric information really matter in the Cheesecake Factory, where a single slice of carrot cake weighs a pound and the best alternative to that slice (the original cheesecake) still comes packed with over 600 calories? You probably know that a salad with a little vinegar and generous helping of veggies delivers, at most, 300 calories, but you don’t eat at McDonald’s, either. The unfortunate consequence of a little sprinkling of caloric information could be relative gluttony; the easing of the conscience because 650 calories is better than 970 calories. At most, I predict a temporary blip in increased chicken sandwich orders before everyone reverts right back to whatever bacon-cheese-beef monstrosity is normally favored. I am strongly in favor of information transparency – open doors are always in the best interests of the consumer. It almost goes without saying that the food, drug and chemical industries would get away with a lot less if there weren’t doors to close in the first place. More information, more education, more legislation – these are rational, logical, well-intentioned goals. In a rational culture, such measures would work. But we already have information. We have media specials and documentaries. We have lawsuits. We have weight-loss centers and therapy and steps. We spend billions on diets and diet books and diet foods and diet pills – and billions more on pharmaceuticals and surgeries. And yet, we have the top 5 causes of death being entirely preventable through better diet choices. We have a majority of the population suffering from the effects of this national food problem. That includes children. More education? More legislation? Those are rational solutions to problems stemming from things like simple misunderstanding or glitches the free market hasn’t had time to correct. Guess what? We’re not dealing with anything rational. Our problem is far more troubling: it is emotional. Our problem as a nation is food addiction. The fact that bacon-cheese-beef monstrosities even exist is evidence enough of that. Like alcoholism, Americans are in an emotionally addictive grip that I fear no … Continue reading “MEAL Act Regulation: Would It Make a Difference? (Why the Rational Will Never Work)”

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Semantic Salmon

Remember the bread-is-to-crumb logic section on the SAT’s? Or how about the interminable hours spent in Mr. Johnson’s English Lit class deconstructing the deeper meaning of that tree in that poem by that guy? The latest and greatest fish debate is worse.

Environmentalists, food lobbyists, and fishermen and women everywhere are in a big huff over whether we should label certain fish as organic or not.

Take a wild salmon and a farm-raised, sea-lice-infested, sick salmon. Which one is organic?

It’s not a trick question. The fish furor (as reported in the New York Times today) is because the government is likely to permit only farm-raised fish to be called organic. That means pristine, wild, icy-water Alaskan salmon cannot be labeled organic.

This is not a joke.

The reason wild, and ostensibly healthier, fish cannot be labeled organic is because we don’t know where their food comes from. And the official requirements of organic food include strict feeding rules. That’s great for a chicken, clucking around in a cage in Omaha. By all means, feed that darn chicken some organic seeds! But the day a wild, clean, natural Alaskan salmon cannot be labeled organic is the day I officially conclude our government employees did not sit through Mr. Johnson’s English Lit class.

The debate gets more complicated (as if we care). Evidently, because salmon are not vegetarian fish, said fish fishers cannot prove that the fish these salmon eat in their natural habitats are also organic. (It’s okay if you have to read that a few times.)

However, a farmed fish, infected with sea-lice, raised so quickly it doesn’t have adequate Omega-3 levels, and crowded in with other fish like, oh, I don’t know…sardines… can be labeled organic. Because we know where its food comes from.

On the other side of the net, one organic-fish-scandal expert says that to allow wild salmon organic status is just really disrespectful to the meaning of organic. Organic, by definition, means organic feed. In other words, we’re following the rules because those are the rules, rather than remembering that rules exist to serve our needs. If a rule doesn’t serve a need or reflect a situation accurately, it needs to be modified. End of story. No deeper meaning, no semantic salmon. Let’s remember the entire reason for starting this organic craze: the realization that we need to go back to natural, healthy foods.

[tags] organic, wild salmon, farmed fish, sea lice, omega-3, Alaska, New York Times, fishermen, regulation, red tape [/tags]

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A Reader Rants

Junior Apple Sarah writes: “I just saw something on the news for an e. coli antidote and how it will revolutionize not only the food industry but also healthcare. What ever happened to just making sure that the food and facilities are clean? It’s my understanding that e. coli comes from fecal matter. Is it too much to ask to keep poop off my food? Why do we have to put another chemical in something / everything we eat?” A recent article in the New York Times entitled “The Vegetable-Industrial Complex” deals with this issue at length. Writer Michael Pollan explores how modern food production yields more than bumper crops – it also yields very high potential for significant public health hazards. It’s the law of unintended consequences put to play on the dinner table. I really recommend that you check out the article. In a nutshell: – Modern food production has created two problems out of what was once a single solution. Animals fertilized crops, and crops fed animals. Pull them apart, mass produce them in factories and feedlots, and you have two problems: 1) As it collects in feedlots, manure becomes pollution, full of antibiotics, chemicals and e. coli, leading to the second problem: 2) Crops are now at risk for contamination, which invariably means crops get fertilized artificially. Great for the chemical industry, not so great for small farms, public health, economic efficiency, animals, or the earth. – Calling for local, organic, small-time food production isn’t about being a dread-locked tree-hugger. It’s actually far more logical and economically viable to return to the way we used to do things. Small-scale food production is healthier. It’s easier to trace if something goes wrong, and fewer people are likely to be affected. Small-scale food production benefits small businesses instead of huge single food conglomerates. That means a freer market, more competition, better choice. Everyone wins: small-scale farming is better for the environment and creates a solution whereas now we have two big problems. – Small-scale farming also avoids the current obvious threat of terrorism. The article points out that our meat comes from but a few slaughterhouses. All the bagged spinach in the country passes through just four locations. How easy would it be for a terrorist to contaminate our food? That’s what Homeland Security is wondering. Unfortunately, industrial food production looks to short-term, engineered fixes. When e. coli was found in the beef supply during the whole Jack in the Stomach fiasco of the 90s, producers just blasted the meat. (Pollan writes: Rather than clean up the kill floor and the feedlot diet, some meat processors simply started nuking the meat — sterilizing the manure, in other words, rather than removing it from our food.) Why bother cleaning up the waste? It’s only our health on the line. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if our government starts requiring that our entire food supply be irradiated. – Finally, well-meaning though it may be, calling for even more regulation … Continue reading “A Reader Rants”

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Smart Fuel After Turkey Day

SMART FUEL

Today’s Smart Fuel isn’t any particular item. Instead, let’s address the real topic at hand: the mountain of Thanksgiving leftovers lurking in the fridge. Perhaps you really indulged yesterday and felt more like a stuffed turkey yourself than a human about to eat one. Or, perhaps you were the model of restraint. No need to reveal which one.

For the weekend, for everyone, the smartest way to fuel up is to give away the sweets, get in a few good workouts, and enjoy the turkey. High in protein and some good fats, turkey is a fairly healthy choice (certainly in comparison to pie, candied yams and stuffing).

I don’t want to be responsible for any Pilgrims turning over in their graves here, but I’m always a little amused (no…annoyed) at what Thanksgiving has become. Why can’t we have a holiday where we all get together and exercise? Or make food for the homeless? Or how about a potluck where everyone has to bring a new, undiscovered healthy food?

If Americans didn’t already eat like it were Thanksgiving every single day (as many do…look at the portions at most restaurants), I’d say dig in, gobble, and don’t wear your belt. Unfortunately, I don’t see many belts at all these days.

[tags] Thanksgiving, turkey, Pilgrims, leftovers [/tags]

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Why Melatonin Is a Dangerous Supplement

Melatonin is a popular supplement for the sleep-deprived, namely because it carries rather innocent associations. Melatonin is “natural” and “safe” and “herbal”, right? Wrong. I’ve been arguing with the melatonin prophets for years because I believe the image melatonin has, and what melatonin really is, are vastly different. Like so many things that we trust in, consume or think we understand, the truth may not be what we want to believe. My caution with melatonin is simple: melatonin is a hormone. That’s right – a hormone. Like estrogen. Like testosterone. And just like taking estrogen (whether it’s Hormone Replacement Therapy or the Pill) or testosterone therapy, melatonin comes with risks. Frequent melatonin use – especially in the typical dosage of 3-6 milligrams – can trigger a bit of a vicious cycle in the brain. Supplement with melatonin regularly to get to sleep, and your body is going to produce even less, creating even greater need for the hormone. It’s not that you can’t ever take melatonin; but I think it’s important that people understand the facts. A caveat: While I am generally against using hormones (it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature), I am in favor of using the natural version of the hormone melatonin to “reset” the diurnal clock when traveling across time zones. Because, after all, you got there by fooling Mother Nature in the first place! Humans did not evolve a mechanism to adapt to changing time zones. Jet travel can be some of the most destructive stress you can encounter, especially the older you get. In fact, a recent article in ScienceNow Daily News reported on the growing concern in the scientific community over the dangers of jet lag. Turns out it’s more serious than we previously realized. Jet lag increases risk of cancer, ulcers, and sleep disorders, as well as weakening the immune system. Now, this isn’t reason to stop traveling; simply be aware of the risks and take some smart precautions (drinking alcohol on the plane: not a good idea). I travel frequently, and I don’t suffer from jet lag, because I use melatonin judiciously in these instances. I also have a few rules about travel (feel free to crib my notes): – Once you’ve landed and checked in to your lodgings, immediately get an aerobic workout. This will help stimulate circulation, hormones and serotonin production – it’ll just be that much easier adjusting to the new time zone. Don’t tuck into a glass of wine or take a nap. Spend 30 minutes getting your heart racing instead. – Eat a small, protein-rich meal that also includes some fiber. But keep it light so your body isn’t further stressed. – Reset your watch and then… lie to yourself. Don’t think about it; just immediately adapt to the new time zone. – Of course, the goal is to adjust as soon as possible to your new time zone. If you’re flying overnight or flying to a place where everyone else will have just finished sleeping, … Continue reading “Why Melatonin Is a Dangerous Supplement”

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