Lowcarbarama is a gathering place for links and pointers to all sort of things relevant to low-carb: articles, blogs, interviews, Web sites, forums. It's a place for commentary on health and nutrition in public policy, the sciences and the media. Comments are welcome anytime, regardless of the post's date.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Carbs are the culprit

A phrase for today:

Carbs are the culprit.

(Nothing to add. I just thought it was a good phrase, and I didn't want to forget it before I wrote it down!)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"Purity and quanity" of modern sugar and fat

In his blog post The Unwisdom of John Mackey Seth Roberts wrote:

John Mackey is the founder of Whole Foods, a business I greatly respect. But he’s not always right.

“You only love animal fat because you’re used to it,” he said. “You’re addicted.”

Well put, Seth. The rest of his post is worth reading, as is the comment thread below.

I commented in response to the following comment (which was not made by Seth):

The conventional wisdom is that sugar other than honey and fat other than blubber weren’t available in modern quantities and purities until agriculture.

My comment follows:

Sugar *including* honey was not available in modern quantities and purities until recently. Agriculture was invented some 10,000 years ago. Sugar became cheap and plentiful with the advent of the European powers developing warm-weather colonies around the globe suitable for sugar plantations. Honey became cheap and plentiful much later.

The 19th century saw the invention of human-made beehives with removable, replaceable square frames that bees spontaneously fill with honey. Until then, humans had to smash a beehive (and usually kill the bees) to get at the honey. Honey in any controllable, scalable quantity dates only from that time.

Modern, large-scale, commercial beekeeping involves keeping a cheap syrup solution near the beehives for the bees to visit. Cheap honey comes from bees that never lit upon a flower. I suppose you could call the resulting product “pure” in that it is simpler, lacking the complexity of wild or artisanal honey, in content and in taste.

As far as the “purity” of modern fat, I don’t understand what is meant by this. True, olive oil has been available in large quantities since the dawn of the agriculture. (Only in its “extra-virgin” form, though.) But modern plant oils, like canola and cottonseed, are the result of complex, high-tech processes like bleaching and hydrogenation that result in substances that may appear “pure” to the naked eye, but they are so altered from any naturally occurring fats that our animal bodies cannot safely metabolize them. The problem with them does not inhere in their quantity, but in their quality: they are not fit to eat.

Why marginalize blubber? The fat of many types of marine fauna supported the human race throughout our history. Arguably, it was eating all those high fat creatures so easily captured along shorelines that enabled our brains to grow big enough for us to figure out how to hunt down faster, stronger land creatures. Humans have long thrived on a lot more fat than many well-meaning people allow themselves today.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Authority versus humble reasoning

This quote comes from my A.Word.A.Day e-mail from wordsmith.org.

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.

- Galileo Galilei, physicist and astronomer (1564-1642)

It got me thinking about the processes that have shaped modern mainstream thinking about diet, especially as the 2010 USDA dietary guidelines are being formulated. The fifth meeting of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will take place Feb. 9-10. You can attend via Webinar.

Not a single researcher or other representative of a reduced carbohydrate, raised fat point of view was included on the panel, despite several excellent candidacies, which I think included such important figures as Dr. Jeff Volek, Dr. Mary C. Vernon and Dr. Eric Westman, among others.

Instead we have the sorts of people who say that there's no real difference between the impact of high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose on the body.

No difference? One is processed directly by the liver, while the other isn't. The liver. That thing people are getting transplants for. That sounds important to me. We have people who say that it's not a problem if up to 25% of our total caloric impact comes from HFCS -- a substance unknown to the human body until a few brief decades ago.

We have people saying that total fat intake should be reduced still further, down perhaps as low as 7.5%.

Authoritative bodies such as the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the Centers for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic, the United States Department of Agriculture and on and on have been proclaiming for decades that dietary fat is our enemy. They say that our modern woes come from to the saturated fats and animal foods on which our species has flourished since time immemorial.

They say that refined vegetable oils are the answer to our troubles. They propose the preposterous idea that our bodies not only can use, but require, substances impossible to come by previous to 20th century industrial technology.

They leave implicit the notion that the proper human diet is mostly made up of grains, and center on a tangent: whether the grains can be refined or must be left whole.

They assert most of our energy should be taken in as carbohydrate, and as little as possible from fat, despite the record of human history and despite the inability of countless researchers working for scores of years to find any evidence for this recommendation.

And they selectively, consistently, ignore scientific results from colleagues who follow the data towards the support of an alternative hypothesis.

It matters not how weighty and ponderous are these authoritative bodies. What matters is the humble reasoning of individuals.

A developing site dedicated to just such research-based reasoning can be found at Innovative Metabolic Solutions, a project of Drs. Vernon and Westman and science journalist Gary Taubes. I learned about it through Dr. Vernon's recent appearance on Jimmy Moore's podcast. Check it out for some actual information about the interplay of diet, health and the chronic conditions debilitating so many members of our society today.