Monday, February 17, 2014

The megafat could be the healthiest

Typically obesity leads to health problems via insulin resistance (). Excess calories are stored as fat in fat cells up to a certain point. Beyond this point fat cells start rejecting fat. This is the point where fat cells become insulin resistant.

When they become insulin resistant, fat cells no longer respond to the insulin-mediated signal that they should store fat. Fat then increases in circulation and starts getting stored in tissues other than fat cells, including organ tissues (visceral fat). When the organ in question is the liver, this is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

This progression happens with most people, but not with those who can progress to extremely high body fat levels (). Those people are the “megafat-prone” (MP). In the MP, fat cells take a long time to start rejecting fat. So the MP can keep on gaining body fat, often with no sign of diabetes at body fat levels that would have caused serious harm to most people.

One could say that the MP are extremely metabolically resilient. By not becoming insulin resistance as they gain more and more body fat, the MP are somewhat similar to sumo wrestlers (photo below from; although the main reason why sumo wrestlers do not develop insulin resistance is vigorous exercise. Visceral fat is very easy to "mobilize" through vigorous exercise; this being the basis for the "fat-but-fit" phenomenon (). There are two interesting, and also speculative, inferences that can be made based on all of this.

One is that the MP could potentially be the healthiest people among us. This is due to their extreme metabolic resilience, which should be fairly protective if they can avoid getting up to the unhealthy point of body fat for them. In fact, they could be overweight or even obese and fairly healthy, at least in terms of degenerative diseases. This is a genetic predisposition, which is likely to run in families.

The other inference is that the MP would probably not look “ripped” at relatively low weights. Since their body fat cells have above average insulin sensitivity at high body fat levels, one would expect that high insulin sensitivity to remain at low body fat levels. Insulin sensitivity is strongly associated with longevity ().

So, bringing all of this together, here are two apparent paradoxes. That person who already gained a lot of body fat and is an MP, showing no health problems at or near obesity, could be the healthiest among us. And that person who cannot look ripped at low body fat levels, no matter how hard he or she tries, may be one of the 2 percent or so of the population who will live beyond 90.

Unfortunately it is hard to tell whether someone is MP or not until the person actually becomes megafat. And if you are MP and actually become megafat, the afterlife will very likely arrive sooner rather than later.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Beef heart

I have posted here before about the nutrition value of beef liver, nature’s “super-multivitamin”. I have even speculated that grain-fed beef liver could be particularly nutritious (). What I should have done also was to post about beef liver’s equal in terms of nutrition value – beef heart. In this post I am correcting the omission.

Contrary to popular belief, not all organ meats are inherently fatty. The fat that is attached to an animal’s heart after slaughter, even if from grain-fed cattle, can be easily removed. The resulting cut will have a very low fat-to-protein ratio; often significantly less than fat-trimmed non-organ muscle cuts.

I don't say this because I consider fat to be unhealthy. In fact, dietary fat is necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and can thus be uniquely healthy. However, fat also is the most calorie-dense macronutrient. Even though the caloric values of macronutrients vary based on a number of factors, excess calories tend to be stored as excess body fat.

A 100 g portion of cooked beef heart, as in the photos below, will have 28 g of protein and only 5 g of fat (see this link, you may have to reset the serving size field: ). The photos below show two different beef heart dishes I have prepared. In the first the beef heart was barbecued. In the second it was simmered in a pan with vegetables for about 8 h.

Below is a simple recipe for the barbecued beef heart, which I recommend cutting into steaks. For the simmered beef heart I suggest cutting it into chunks that resemble cubes; then you can just add the dry seasoning powder mentioned below to the water, some vegetables, enough water to last about 8 h, and leave it simmering.

- Prepare some dry seasoning powder by mixing salt, garlic power, chili powder, and a small amount of cayenne pepper.
- Season the beef heart steaks at least 2 hours prior to placing them on the grill.
- Grill with the lid on, checking the meat every 10 minutes or so. (I use charcoal, one layer only to avoid burning the surface of the meat.) Turn it frequently, always putting the lid back on.
- If you like it rare, 20 minutes (or a bit less) may be enough.

Beef heart is a very good source of vitamins and minerals, and is one of the least expensive cuts of meat (in meat sections of grocery stores, not in paleo restaurants). Many people prefer beef heart over beef liver because of beef heart’s texture.

While I have restricted my comments in this post to “beef” heart, the hearts of most animals that are eaten by humans (e.g., chicken, duck, deer, turkey) are fairly nutritious, and they seem to have that uniformly meaty texture that many people like.

Here is an interesting factoid. The largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times was the now extinct Tasmanian tiger. It was an elusive and solitary animal, and the subject of the beautiful film "The Hunter (2001)" (). The Tasmanian tiger was known to frequently eat only the hearts of prey. I hope this is not why it became extinct!