Monday, June 27, 2011

Boring is another word for satiating

Satiety is a common topic of discussion on this blog. In the last few posts it came up several times in the comments’ sections. Also, in my interview with Jimmy Moore, we did talk a bit about satiety. I told him what has been my perception and that of many people I know, which is that the least satiating foods tend to be foods engineered by humans.


There is another component to satiety, which applies to natural foods, or foods that are not man-made. That other component is the nutrition value of those foods, and whether they meet our nutrition needs at a given point in time. If our body needs certain essential amino acids for tissue repair, subconscious mechanisms will make us crave those foods from which those amino acids can be extracted. In this context, eating is generally a good idea.

The problem is that we have not evolved mechanisms to differentiate “true” from “fake” nutrient starvation; one example of the latter would be fat starvation due to transient hyperinsulinemia induced by refined carbohydrate-rich foods.

Foods engineered by humans tend to lead to overeating because humans are good engineers. In modern society, business drives everything. Food business is predicated on consumption, so engineered foods are designed so that one person will want to consume many units of a food item – typically something that will come in a box or a plastic bag. There is no conspiracy involved; the underlying reason is profit maximization.

When we look at nature, we typically see the opposite. Prey animals do not want to be eaten; often they fight back. Eggs have to be stolen. Plants do not want their various parts, such as leaves and roots, to be eaten. Much less their seeds; so they have developed various defense mechanisms, including toxins. Fruits are exceptions to this rule; they are the only natural foods that are designed to be eaten by animals.

Plants want animals to eat their fruits so that they can disperse the plants’ seeds. So they must be somewhat alluring to animals. Sugar plays a role here, but it certainly is not the only factor. The chemical composition of fruits is quite complex, and they usually contain a number of health-promoting substances, such as vitamins. For example, most fruits contain vitamin C, which happens to be a powerful antioxidant, and also has the ability to reversibly bind to proteins at the sites where sugar-induced glycation would occur.

Many modern fruits have been bred to be resistant to diseases, more palatable, and larger (usually due to more water retention). But, fundamentally, fruits are products of evolution. So how come we don’t see fruits that are pure sugar? Watermelons, for example, are often referred to as “bags of sugar”, but they are only 6 percent sugar. Ice cream is 25 percent sugar.

Two things must be kept in mind regarding fruits and their evolution. One is that dead animals do not eat fruit, and thus cannot disperse seeds. Sick animals would probably not be good candidates for fruit dispersion either. So the co-evolution of fruits and animals must have led fruits to incorporate many health-promoting attributes. The other is that seed dispersion success is correlated with the number of different animals that consume fruits from a plant. In other words, plants do not want all of their fruits to be eaten by one single animal, which must have led fruits to incorporate satiety-promoting attributes.

Often combining foods, adding spices, and so on, is perceived as making those foods exciting. That is so even with natural foods. If you read the descriptions of the foods consumed by healthy isolated populations in Weston Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, you will probably find them a bit boring. A few very nutritious food items, consumed day in and day out, frequently without heavy preparation. Exciting foods, requiring elaborate and time-consuming preparation, were consumed in special occasions. They were not eaten regularly.

The members of those healthy isolated populations were generally thin and yet lacked no important nutrients in their diet. They were generally free from degenerative diseases. Their teeth were normally strong and healthy.

Just before writing this post, I took six whole sardines out of the freezer to thaw. I will prepare them as discussed on this post, and eat them with a side of steamed vegetables for lunch. (I tend to eat fruits only on the days I exercise; typically 3 days out of 7.) This lunch will be very nutrient-dense. I will be very hungry before lunch, since I’ll have been fasting for 16 hours, and after I’ll not be hungry until dinner. Frankly, eating the sardines will not be very exciting, since I’ve been doing this for years.

Boring is another word for satiating.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Maybe you should stop trying to be someone you are not

Many people struggle to lose body fat, and never quite make it to their optimal. Fewer people manage to do so successfully, and, as soon as they do, they want more. It is human nature. Often they will start trying to become someone they are not, or cannot be. That may lead to a lot of stress and frustration, and also health problems.

Some women have an idealized look in mind, and keep losing weight well beyond their ideal, down to anorexic levels. That leads to a number of health problems. For example, hormones approach starvation levels, causing fatigue and mood swings; susceptibility to infectious diseases increases significantly; and the low weight leads to osteopenia, which is a precursor to osteoporosis.

In men, often what happens is the opposite. Guys who are successful getting body fat to healthy levels next want to become very muscular, and fast. They have an idealized look in mind, and think they know how much they should weigh to get there. Sometimes they want to keep losing body fat and gaining muscle at the same time.

I frequently see men who already look very healthy, but who think that they should weigh more than they do. Since muscle gain is typically very slow, they start eating more and simply gain body fat. The reality is that people have different body frames, and their muscles are built slightly differently; these are things that influence body weight.

There are many other things that also influence body weight, such as the length of arms and legs, bone density, organ mass, as well as the amount of glycogen and water stored throughout the body. As a result, you can weigh a lot less than you think you should weigh, and look very good. The photo below (from is of Donald Cerrone, weighing in at 145 lbs. He is 6 ft (183 cm) tall.

Mr. Cerrone is a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter from Texas; one of the best in professional MMA at the moment. Yes, he is a bit dehydrated on the photo above. But also keep in mind that his bone density is probably well above that of the average person, like that of most MMA fighters, which pushes his weight up.

A man can be 6 ft tall, weigh 145 lbs, and be very healthy and look very good. That may well be his ideal weight. A woman may be 5’5”, weigh 145 lbs, and also be very healthy and look very good. Figuring out the optimal is not easy, but trying to be someone you are not will probably be a losing battle.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Alcohol intake increases LDL cholesterol, in some people

Occasionally I get emails from people experiencing odd fluctuations in health markers, and trying to figure out what is causing those fluctuations. Spikes in LDL cholesterol without any change in diet seem to be a common occurrence, especially in men.

LDL cholesterol is a reflection of many things. It is one of the least useful measures in standard lipid profiles, as a predictor of future health problems. Nevertheless, if one’s diet is not changing, whether it is high or low in fat, significant fluctuations in LDL cholesterol may signal a change in inflammatory status. Generally speaking, the more systemic inflammation, the higher is the measured LDL cholesterol.

Corella and colleagues (2001) looked into alcohol consumption and its effect on LDL cholesterol, as part of the Framingham Offspring Study. They split the data into three genotypes, which are allele combinations. Alleles are genes variations; that is, they are variations in the sections of DNA that have been identified as coding for observable traits. The table below summarizes what they have found. Take a look at the last two columns on the right.

As you can see, for men with the E2 genotype, alcohol consumption significantly decreases LDL cholesterol. For men with the E4 genotype, alcohol consumption significantly increases LDL cholesterol. No significant effects were observed in women. The figure below illustrates the magnitude of the effects observed in men.

On average, alcohol consumption was moderate, around 15 g per day, and did not vary significantly based on genotype. This is important. Otherwise one could argue that a particular genotype predisposed individuals to drink more, which would be a major confounder in this study. Other confounders were also ruled out through multivariate controls - e.g., fat and calorie intake, and smoking.

Alcohol consumption in moderation seems, on average, to be beneficial. But for some individuals, particularly men with a certain genotype, it may be advisable to completely abstain from alcohol consumption. Who are those folks? They are the ones for whom LDL cholesterol goes up significantly following moderate alcohol consumption.