The Young One’s Strange Diet

I am incredibly busy this week, getting ready for graduation and out-of-town visitors, and filling out tons of paperwork to get this child into college in the fall.  (Is there anything more fun than wrangling with the intricacies of financial aid?  I didn’t think so.)  Here’s a guest post I wrote for the Paleo Parents in January; I never got around to posting it here and thought the subject matter would be appropriate, considering the circumstances.  I’ll be back tomorrow with a recipe.

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I am an old parent. Yes, I am. My eldest will be 30 in June, and my youngest is going off to college in the Fall, when I will enter the fabled land of The Empty Nest.

It apparently does exist, after all.

That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though. No, I’m here to tell you about the kid that’s going off to college soon; I call him “The Young One” on my blog. Three months premature, weighing a whopping 2 lbs. 4 oz., he was known among the staff at the hospital as “the miracle baby.” Born January 27, we took him home on March 17, just a little over six weeks later; there were babies in the NICU that had been born closer to term and weighed more who spent much, much longer there. And aside from surgeries to correct a hernia and strabismus in one eye, he never had the health problems many other preemies faced.

But there were developmental and behavioral issues – issues not fully resolved until he was in middle school. Knowing what I know now about diet, I think back to those days and am angry – angry with a society that tells us “foods” laden with chemical additives, dyes, industrial seed oils and HFCS are perfectly safe for growing little bodies and minds. Angry with myself for not knowing the difference; I can make all the excuses I want that the wealth of information available today simply wasn’t there nearly 20 years ago, but it does little to assuage the guilt.

Even if I’d known then what I know now it would have been a struggle. You see, The Young One is what is politely known as “a picky eater.” Naturally lean and wiry, it was a struggle to get him to eat anything beyond a few (very few) foods as a small child. For years, every meal was a battle, and every new food tried a triumph. Of course, as he’s matured that’s become easier, but there are still foods he simply will not eat – don’t even bother to put that zucchini or those collard greens on his plate, because they’ll just…sit there. The dog might eat them, but The Young One will not.

Surprisingly, he’s always been pretty good about meat; even as a small child I used to tell people that my son lived off of meat, cheese and chocolate chip cookies (even if he did eat them in frustratingly small amounts). If it flies or walks on four legs, that boy will eat it (alas, he’s not so fond of things that swim). So when we “went Paleo” it wasn’t really difficult to bring him along for the ride. In fact, it was downright easy once he got over the disappointment that there would be no more junk in the house. And he has thrived.

Flex

But there have been repercussions that I, for one, didn’t foresee. You’d think after five children I’d remember what social, herd-like animals teenagers are and realize he would receive some negative feedback about his new diet from his friends and classmates. No chips? No cookies? No soda? No ice cream, cupcakes, candies or even cereal, for crying out loud? Did he really like those carrot sticks, all that celery stuffed with nut butter? Grapes? Apples? Bananas? Raw milk cheese? Sandwiches on LETTUCE?? As far as his friends were concerned, that wasn’t lunch – it was some sort of dietary purgatory.

His very best friend was especially hard on The Young One, since the friend’s mother is still a member of The Low Fat Tribe (she is, in fact, their Queen). Her kitchen is filled with every low fat/fat free “food” and treat in existence, because fat – especially all that nasty saturated fat – is just going to clog up your arteries and kill you faster than you can say “Hollandaise sauce,” don’t you know. I don’t try to enforce our diet outside of home and school lunches (it wouldn’t work, anyway) and he often “indulges” when he spends time there…and comes home complaining of headaches, digestive issues and the nastiness that is turkey bacon.

We won’t even go into the complaints of this friend when he’s at our house, where there’s nary a Lean Pocket nor Snackwell cookie to be found, although I’ve yet to see him turn down the nuts, cheeses, seasonal fruits or “paleo-ized” goodies we always seem to have on hand. (This is also the same young man who, after having whole, non-homogenized, grass-fed milk at our home for the first time, asked me, “What have I been missing all these years?” I told him, “Real food.”)

The Young One handles it well, though, and some of the criticism has begun to wane, perhaps due in part to the fact he’s getting kinda ripped with next to no effort. But six-pack abs and bulging biceps aside, he’s never tried to pressure us to bring foods into the house we would not eat ourselves. For the most part he likes the way we eat now.

Barbecue sauce is about the only condiment he’ll eat, but that’s okay – it makes Barbecued Beef Liver one of his favorite dishes and it makes a great dipping sauce for another of his favorites: Crispy Fried Chicken Livers. When I sourced a goat for our freezer, he ate things like Moroccan Goat Stew with abandon (minus the butternut squash). Surprisingly, he enjoys spaghetti squash and dishes such as Venison Bolognese and Cincinnati-Style Chili have been huge hits with him. Heck, even his friends will eat things like Whole30-complaint Chili Dogs and Bacon-Wrapped Honey Mustard Chicken Strips.

I still worry a little about him going off to college – the food options on campus aren’t exactly the best, although I secretly cheered when he expressed dismay and disbelief over the fact there’s a full-service Quaker Steak and Lube in the student center. And I wonder just how often he’ll be home to raid the refrigerator in the months to come.

Now, About Those Sources…

Yesterday, when I reposted my article on why saturated fats are so important to our health, I got this comment:

[blockquote]I was wondering if there are any sites you can direct me to that would cite studies or evidence of what you shared? I’d love to share this information with friends/family, but I know the first thing they’ll say is that I read it on a blog and don’t have anything to back it up.[/blockquote]

I tend to research stuff to death before I write about it – it’s just not in my nature to go around making wild, unsubstantiated claims (I also have a real fear of making a fool out of myself), so yes – as a matter of fact, I do.

Let’s start with the article about Alzheimer’s I wrote about in the other post.  It appeared in the European Journal of Internal Medicine in April 2011 and was titled “Nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease: The detrimental role of a high carbohydrate diet.”  The abstract, or synopsis, is quite sobering (emphasis mine):

[blockquote]Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disease whose recent increase in incidence rates has broad implications for rising health care costs. Huge amounts of research money are currently being invested in seeking the underlying cause, with corresponding progress in understanding the disease progression. In this paper, we highlight how an excess of dietary carbohydrates, particularly fructose, alongside a relative deficiency in dietary fats and cholesterol, may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. A first step in the pathophysiology of the disease is represented by advanced glycation end-products in crucial plasma proteins concerned with fat, cholesterol, and oxygen transport. This leads to cholesterol deficiency in neurons, which significantly impairs their ability to function. Over time, a cascade response leads to impaired glutamate signaling, increased oxidative damage, mitochondrial and lysosomal dysfunction, increased risk to microbial infection, and, ultimately, apoptosis. Other neurodegenerative diseases share many properties with Alzheimer’s disease, and may also be due in large part to this same underlying cause.[/blockquote]

The full text of the study contains many more statements condemning the lack of fats and cholesterol and overabundance of carbohydrate, particularly sugar, in our diets, such as “Recent population studies have confirmed a correlation between low blood serum cholesterol and both dementia and Parkinson’s disease” and “It has been shown that patients with type-2 diabetes are at two to five times increased risk to [Alzheimer’s disease].”  Really, the entire thing is worth the read.

Then send them to this article, published just this month in Advances In Nutrition and is titled “Dietary Fats and Health: Dietary Recommendations in the Context of Scientific Evidence.”  Its abstract is equally sobering (again, emphasis mine):

[blockquote]Although early studies showed that saturated fat diets with very low levels of PUFAs increase serum cholesterol, whereas other studies showed high serum cholesterol increased the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), the evidence of dietary saturated fats increasing CAD or causing premature death was weak. Over the years, data revealed that dietary saturated fatty acids (SFAs) are not associated with CAD and other adverse health effects or at worst are weakly associated in some analyses when other contributing factors may be overlooked. Several recent analyses indicate that SFAs, particularly in dairy products and coconut oil, can improve health. The evidence of ω6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) promoting inflammation and augmenting many diseases continues to grow, whereas ω3 PUFAs seem to counter these adverse effects. The replacement of saturated fats in the diet with carbohydrates, especially sugars, has resulted in increased obesity and its associated health complications. Well-established mechanisms have been proposed for the adverse health effects of some alternative or replacement nutrients, such as simple carbohydrates and PUFAs. The focus on dietary manipulation of serum cholesterol may be moot in view of numerous other factors that increase the risk of heart disease. The adverse health effects that have been associated with saturated fats in the past are most likely due to factors other than SFAs, which are discussed here. This review calls for a rational reevaluation of existing dietary recommendations that focus on minimizing dietary SFAs, for which mechanisms for adverse health effects are lacking.[/blockquote]

Tom Naughton posted about this very study just yesterday, and does an excellent job of explaining the main points of the article.  You should have your friends and family read it; it’s good.

After that, they can read this article, written by Mary Enig, PhD for the Weston A. Price Foundation in 2004 and titled The Importance of Saturated Fats for Biological Functions.  Dr. Enig is a biochemist and nutritionist and has been one of the most vocal opponents of the advice by the government and medical community to replace saturated fats with industrial seed oils and other trans fats.  (You can also recommend her book, Know Your Fats : The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol, but it isn’t necessarily an easy read.)

Then you can send them to this article, published in The Atlantic in 2010 about Dr. John Ioannidis.  Dr. Ioannidis, besides being a mathematical genius, is what is known as a meta-researcher and one of the world’s foremost experts on the credibility of medical research.  Your friends and family may find this part of the article quite interesting (guess whose emphasis):

[blockquote][Dr. Ioannidis] charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed. His work has been widely accepted by the medical community; it has been published in the field’s top journals, where it is heavily cited; and he is a big draw at conferences. Given this exposure, and the fact that his work broadly targets everyone else’s work in medicine, as well as everything that physicians do and all the health advice we get, Ioannidis may be one of the most influential scientists alive. Yet for all his influence, he worries that the field of medical research is so pervasively flawed, and so riddled with conflicts of interest, that it might be chronically resistant to change—or even to publicly admitting that there’s a problem.[/blockquote]

Well, alrighty then.

Next, buy them a copy of Good Calories, Bad Calories by health journalist Gary Taubes.  They can ignore the second half of the book – if they choose to after reading the first half, which goes into great detail about just how the government and medical establishment began giving dietary advice to eschew fat in favor of carbohydrates in the first place.  (Hint:  it will piss them off.  It did me, anyway.)

Oh, and if anyone mentions The China Study, don’t say a word.  Just send them here.

Finally, you may want to ask them why the USDA is giving anyone dietary advice.  The ultimate goal of the Unites Stated Department of Agriculture is to promote United States agriculture.  Why wouldn’t they tell us to base our diet on the most subsidized of commodity crops – grains?  (There’s that conflict of interest thing again.)  (Then ask yourself why ANY food is a commodity.)

At any rate, I hope there’s enough here to indicate that the notion saturated fat is not the root of all dietary evil isn’t just the unfounded claims of some misguided, nutjob food blogger.  I may be a nutjob food blogger, but misguided?  Well…not about this, anyway. :p

The Skinny on Saturated Fats – A Repost

MeatA couple of years ago, I did a series on dietary fats and the role they play in our health.  My readership has more than tripled since then, and I thought it would be a good time to re-run one of my best posts on the subject.  Enjoy, and feel free to to tell me I’m full of it if you wish.  It will be an interesting conversation. 😉

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Last Friday I wrote a post about a study published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine implicating the high consumption of carbohydrates in the development of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases – basically what it came down to was consuming excess carbohydrates and insufficient amounts of fat and cholesterol can kill your brain.

Some of you took exception to that.  Which is fine; we’ve been taught, over the last 60 years – and it’s really been driven home in the last 30 – that the consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol are responsible for everything from strokes to heart attacks to various forms of cancer to (of course) obesity.  We’ve been taught that “whole” grains are our salvation – the very key to good health and a long life.  We’ve been taught that if we’ll just replace all those nasty animal fats with liquid-at-room-temperature vegetable oils** our arteries will run free and clear and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.

Bullshit.  (Sorry, but that’s exactly what it is.)

All fatty acids are merely chains of carbon atoms with pairs of hydrogen atoms attached.  Saturated fatty acids have both hydrogen atoms at each link; monounsaturated fats are missing one pair, and polyunsaturated fats are missing two or more pairs – saturated fats are literally saturated with hydrogen.  As a result, they are solid at room temperature, have a higher melting point than other fats and are more stable – they do not go rancid as quickly as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Even then, all saturated fats are not the same – some carbon chains are longer than others; generally, short and medium chain saturated fatty acids are more easily converted to energy than long chain SFAs, but all are essential to your continued good health.

Long chain SFAs pad the soles of your feet, the palms of your hands and your behind; they also cushion your internal organs and protect them from injury.   Short and medium chain SFAs such as caproic acid, caprylic acid, capric acid and lauric acid are easily absorbed through the intestines; they’re delivered directly to the liver and are an excellent source of energy.  In fact, the saturated fats stearic acid and palmitic acid are the preferred source of energy for the heart, which is a major contradiction to the idea that saturated fat causes heart disease.

More than half of your brain consists of fat and cholesterol, and anywhere from a third to more than half of the fat is saturated. Both saturated fat and cholesterol represent a significant portion of the myelin sheath that surrounds nerve fibers and preserves proper function of the brain and nervous system.  If this protective layer is compromised in any way, it can lead to a number of neurological disorders (such as Alzheimer’s).

If that’s not enough for you, saturated fat also:

~ Allows your body to utilize fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K)
~ Promotes healthy cell function (the membrane of each cell in your body is 50% saturated fat)
~ Is essential for proper bone development
~ Is important for your immune system to function properly
~ Is essential for healthy lung function
~ Protects the body against toxins
~ Helps protect against skin cancer
~ Is essential to the body’s proper utilization of essential fatty acids like Omega 3

And why, if saturated fat is so bad for you, is there so much of it in your body?  Almost 50 percent of your body fat (whether you’re obese or not) is saturated, and if you don’t consume it your body will convert carbohydrates into saturated fatThat is how important it is.

One reader left a comment saying, “I agree some fats are good. BUT I have a husband who is involved daily with surgeries on the GI tract. He sees first hand the insides of people with high fat diets and those with low fat diets. Unfortunately for me, he brings home photos and videos to share with me. Having seen, first hand, what a high saturated fat does to the inside of our bodies … I don’t think it’s healthy or safe.”

I can understand how something like that would definitely make a person wary of saturated fats in the diet.  However, there are problems with this reasoning:  first and foremost the medical community’s insistence on lumping saturated fats together with trans fats, which ARE bad for you and ARE implicated in a multitude of health problems, including colorectal cancer as well as heart disease.

In the 1980s we began to get a lot of advice to cut saturated fats out of our diets – we were told to avoid red meat, eat chicken without the skin and replace our butter with margarine.  Tropical oils were removed from processed foods and replaced with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.  Restaurants stopped cooking with animal fats in favor of those same vegetable oils.  This was largely based on research done at the Harvard School of Public Health and included data from the Nurses Study II, which monitors the long-term health condition of nearly 116,000 women, and the Health Professionals Study, which monitors the long-term health condition of 52,000 men.

These studies showed strong evidence that saturated fat caused heart disease and cancer.  But in the 1990s, researchers began to take trans fats into account, separate from saturated fats, and found that the participants in these studies who ate more margarine and vegetable oils and shortenings had higher rates of cancer, not those who consumed butter, eggs, cheese and meat.

This is why observational studies can be so misleading, and why controlled clinical trials are so necessary.  Just observing the behavior or habits of a group of people can be deceptive, especially if you’re looking for something specific.  It’s very easy to say, “These people have a high fat diet and higher rates of heart disease and cancer; dietary fat must cause these diseases!” while completely ignoring the fact that those same diets are also high in refined carbohydrates, high fructose corn syrup and/or other refined sugars and that the majority of the fat in the diet are trans fats.

The latter are known as confounding variables, and they should be taken into consideration not only in individuals with the high fat diets, but those with low fat diets as well.  People who eat low fat diets tend to be more health conscious than those who eat a high fat diet.  They exercise more; eat more green leafy vegetables and less sugar and processed foods.  They tend not to smoke or drink alcohol, and they generally consume far fewer trans fats.  All of these things need to be taken into consideration, but unfortunately most medical professionals do not – they’ve been taught that saturated fat is the root of all dietary evil and that’s that.  Case closed.

We’ve been vilifying dietary fat, especially saturated fats, for more than half a century and we’ve just been getting fatter and sicker – it’s time to understand the importance of these fats in our diet and our good health.  I’m not suggesting you consume it to the exclusion of all else, but I am saying that if you avoid saturated fat because you believe it’s going to eventually kill you, that’s simply not true.

**”Vegetable oil” is a misnomer – corn is a grain, soy is a legume and rapeseed (masquerading under the harmless-sounding “Canola”) and cottonseed are, well, seeds.  There are no commercial-grade food oils from vegetables.

Best Quote I’ve Seen All Day

“”Back in my day when my mother sent me to the store with 5 pennies I came home with 1 loaf of bread, 1 gallon milk, 2 pots of butter and 1 block of cheese. That is not possible anymore. Too many &%$@ing security cameras.”

For more quotable Spins, get thee to a nunnery blog called Second Blooming and visit Gretchen, the High Priestess of All Things Spinned.

Polls, Trolls and Dietary Fat

Theif Cartoon SilohuetteThe tragedy in Boston yesterday has left me angry and sad.  I’m so sad for the deaths and injuries suffered by all of those innocent people, and angry at the non-stop media coverage – the sensationalism and constant, pointless speculation, giving this sicko exactly what they wanted out of the whole thing:  attention and validation.  It’s just disgusting.

It’s made me think about my intention to blog about GMOs in response to some comments I got on Facebook last week.  After I posted my Fish Tacos recipe to my Facebook wall, the same person who was “debating” me about GMOs left some very nasty comments about me personally – hilariously, he seems to think I’m some sort of bored, spoiled Mommy Blogger – so I banned him and blocked him from commenting here.

Am I going to give this person any more of my time and respond to his often incomprehensible, hostile arguments?  NOT ON YOUR LIFE.

I appreciate the rational and respectful feedback I got on my little poll, and I do have a great deal to say about the subject.  So I will probably go ahead and do the post about GMOs – and what appears to be a common misconception about those who oppose them – but it won’t be in response to this asshole, who personifies John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.  Just sayin’.

On that note, I recently switched my RSS and email subscription functions here from Feedburner, which seems to have been deprecated by Google, to Feedblitz.  I get a great deal more information, more consistently, than I did with Feedburner, including updates when I have a new subscriber or when someone unsubscribes.  I really like the unsubscribe notices, because Feedblitz asks for a reason.  For the most part, the few unsubsribes haven’t given one, but that doesn’t bother me – I’ve subscribed to blogs in the past only to unsubscribe from them shortly after because it simply wasn’t what I expected or was looking for.

However, yesterday, right on the heels of banning/blocking this one person and reading about what happened in Boston, I got an unsubscribe with a reason that just made my jaw drop.  I’ve had this one very intermittent commenter for about a year; he seemed nice enough.  At least until recently when he began to take me to task just out of the blue, telling me my recipes are horrible, asking me what kind a readership do I attract and insisting that I do them a great disservice – my recipes are just an instant heart attack!  It didn’t take me long to get fed up and I just quietly blocked him from commenting and promptly forgot all about him.

Until yesterday when he unsubscribed from my feed, citing that my blog is “offensive” and that he “strongly disapproves” of me.  I guess he doesn’t like fish tacos any more than he likes fried plantains or breakfast crepes.

What the hell is  WRONG with people?