I've started this blog to record my thoughts and research about food and health: how we grow our food, what we eat, the nutrition debate, food distribution, food sovereignty and environmental impact.

My life started down a new path after I read an article a couple of years ago in the New York Times magazine. I became fixated on learning all I could about our eating habits, the way our food is made, and the effects that the industrial food industry has had on our culture and our lives - physically and mentally.

This blog joins an ongoing discussion and is a place to voice interest, intrigue, and discovery. This is not a podium for lecturing, so please extend grace to each other if anything is found to be erroneous. Counter-arguments are encouraged with respect, empathy and compassion for other perspectives.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Untangling the Knots/A Growing Resistance

I've been eating this new way for a while (five months), and my bodily needs have gone through some changes, as would seem natural. I've described in a previous post what happened to my appetite, energy and vitality initially when I stopped eating grains & starches, refined sugar and hydrogenated oils. Now, gradually, my appetite has increased to a level similar to what it was before the change in my diet, but I doubt that is an indication of anything troublesome. Possibly, it is due to an increase in physical activity, which my body compensates for with an increase in appetite. Maybe the adjustment period is over and I've reached a new equilibrium, or homeostasis... I don't know the answer, but I still feel way more energetic and vigorous than I felt when eating carbohydrates (I should admit, though, that I do ingest a small amount of carbs here and there: beer being a large culprit, pizza, and an occasional baked good.) Now that carbs are so minimal in my diet, I've noticed that when I do have carbs, I crave them - as in, I would love to eat ten chocolate croissants - like an addiction, which is something I'm looking into...

I've been learning about which questions have been asked and what conclusions have been drawn from the available data. That's a vague statement, but I'm reading the analyses presented in the book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" of research on nutrition, hunger, obesity and weight loss, and discovering (albeit from one author, at the moment) that the evidence for many health claims has only ever been vague. What I'm expounding on is my awakening to the degree of complexity in searching for answers to health issues. I'll use two examples, from "Good Calories, Bad Calories", to illustrate what I mean.

First, consider the factors of carbohydrates, fat, and the amount of calories we eat in connection with weight gain/loss. If you were to conduct tests to find cause and effect, you'd have to test a diet high in carbs and low in fat, a diet low in carbs and high in fat, and also observe whether the total calories went up, down or stayed the same. If your test subjects lost weight, is it because of low carbohydrates, high fat, the reverse, or a difference in total calories (or a combination)?

Another example is the issue of scurvy among sailors way back when. The author, Gary Taubes, explains that "Scottish naval surgeon James Lind demonstrated in 1753 that scurvy could be prevented and cured by the consumption of citrus juice, for example, he did so with British sailors who had been eating the typical naval fare 'of water gruel sweetened with sugar in the morning, fresh mutton broth, light puddings, boiled biscuit with sugar, barley and raisins, rice and currants'." (Taubes, p. 321) Now compare that to the diet recorded by anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson: [he] "had spent a decade eating nothing but meat among the Inuit of northern Canada and Alaska. Among the tribes with whom Stefansson lived and traveled, the diet was primarily caribou meat, 'with perhaps 30 percent fish, 10 percent seal meat, and 5 or 10 percent made up of polar bear, rabbits, birds and eggs'." (Taubes, p.320) So, what is it that causes scurvy? The evidence is vague, at best.

This is what blew me away: "To be technically accurate, however, [James] Lind and the nutritionists who followed him in the study of scurvy demonstrated only that the disease is a dietary deficiency that can be cured by the addition of fresh fruits and vegetables. As a matter of logic, though, this doesn't necessarily imply that the lack of vitamin C is caused by the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. Scurvy can be ameliorated by adding these to the diet, but the original lack of vitamin C might be caused by other factors. In fact, given that the Inuit and those Westerners living on the Inuit's vegetable- and fruit-free diet never suffered from scurvy, as Stefansson observed, then other factors must be involved. This suggested another way of defining a balanced diet. It's possible that eating easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars increases our need for vitamins that we would otherwise derive from animal products in sufficient quantities.

READ THAT LAST SENTENCE AGAIN. Those sailors who ate nothing but grains, fruit and sugar (all carbohydrate) developed a vitamin deficiency, yet the Inuit and Western explorers who ate only meat with a few eggs did not develop ANY deficiencies, despite having eaten nothing that modern nutrition experts would consider an adequate source of vitamins.

When I think about my experience, this actually starts to make sense. When I ate carbohydrates as a large percentage of my diet, I wanted to eat those foods all the time, and I was always hungry, and I also craved lots of fruits and vegetables. Now I seldomly have cravings for fruits or vegetables as necessary nutrients - and the only reason I still sometimes need to supplement my diet with fruit or vegetables is because I don't have complete access to meat & dairy from farms that raise their animals 100% biologically appropriate. By that I mean raising animals without factories or machines or cages, and allowing them to eat what they're meant to eat, thereby metabolizing and storing the nutrients that I need in the meat and fat that I eat. If I decide I've evolved to eat mainly meat, then I need to procure my meat from sources where my meat eats what it has evolved to eat, and passes the benefits on to me (and you).

Another point, about ecological cycles - that if animals eat what they're equipped to eat (a cow, for example, has multiple stomachs precisely to be able to digest grasses, not grains), then when they die and humans take their meat, the rest of the carcass decomposes and replenishes the soil with the appropriate nutrients - the same nutrients that the animal used up to begin and sustain its life. It all works together in exact precision if there is no tampering; unfortunately, there is...

My inner skeptic asks if I'm just saying all this because I want to believe what I'm reading. Possibly, but the evidence that I've accumulated so far regarding my diet is more supportive of eating more meat, less fruits and vegetables, and hardly any or zero grains and sugar (although I still love a decadent brownie - damn the food industry for raising me on crap I'm not equipped to eat).