words about things

What follows is my subtle attempt at honesty.

This week in ketosis: April 3-9

So I have just finished week 11 of my officially documented ketosis experiment. Let’ see how I’m doing:

I’ve let a few things slip like regular blood ketone and glucose monitoring but, in my defense, the ketone strips are horribly overpriced at almost $4 each. I started with a nice regular schedule but then slacked off. What I would like to do next is plan some meals and exercise; then check my levels before and after. That could yield useful information. I can say that after a 24hour fast yesterday my ketone level was 2.7 and my glucose was 67.

Also worth noting, I over did my protein a couple times last week and in each case it was with fish or shrimp.  Yummy, yummy seafood.

I have been trying to eat 1 meal per day several times per week. I drink some green tea or sparkling water during the day and have whatever the heck I want to at night. The pros are I get to cook nightly which makes me happy, the cons are it doesn’t take much to fill me up so I am right back to cooking for 2 or 3 nights at a shot. To be honest, I like eating 3 or 4 small meals (the average American would call them “snacks”) per day. Yesterday I fasted and then cooked two small chicken breasts with peppers and onions and I steamed a stalk of broccoli. I split it up into two plates and just ate one. I guess I have dinner for tonight now.

I mentioned sparking water earlier. I have stopped drinking nightly and when I do drink it’s about half as much as historically. I have done this by replacing the glass of bourbon with a glass of sparkling water. I’m drinking a quart of sparking water per day on average and I’m happy with it. I’m also smoking 1-2 cigars on the weekend instead of 1-2 per day. Less smoking, less drinking, more exercise. I’ll surely be hit by a truck next week.

Speaking of exercise, I’ve been riding my bicycle 15-30 miles per ride at least once per week and now I’m trying to work my bicycle riding up to a 50 mile circuit because that’s what they do for competitions. That seems like a daunting physical task but in actuality the worst part is finding a 50 mile circuit that is bicycle friendly. What do I mean by that? Well, one of my favorite roads to ride got resurfaced recently with large gravel that shakes my road bike mercilessly until my joints hurt and I can’t open my hands. That route isn’t really an option any more. There’s another road that is part of a good 25 mile circuit but they added rumble strips to the shoulder so I have to ride inside the white line which puts me in the way of traffic. The main road that leads to where I work and is part of my 30 mile circuit is so traffic heavy that even with the shoulder it’s dangerous. Then you add in the places with dogs that get too close when they chase you and the places with sand or dirt in the road and you suddenly have to be on the lookout at all times to keep from wrecking or getting clipped by some teenage girl on her cell phone. Those advertisements that show perfect form cyclists speeding down empty flat perfect roads are lies! Lies, I tell you! Final note about bicycling: the one real issue I am having is my saddle. It seemed fine until I picked a distance I was trying to achieve. Now I notice that if I don’t stop every 10-20 miles and walk around my legs and feet start to go numb. I made some adjustments last weekend that helped but I will work to find a better solution to this.

OK, thus ends the “Dear Diary” part of my blog and begins the “I learned something this week” part.

This week I did some reading about the USDA’s nutritional guidelines. Before I get all high and mighty let me say in their defense that the idea of trying to communicate and encourage good nutrition to an entire nation of people is a daunting task. Add in our rebellious American spirit, our free market sugar, and the political influence pedaled by the largest agricultural based businesses ever to have existed anywhere on Earth throughout the 5,000+ years of human agriculture and suddenly I realize there’s no way to do this job well, let alone right.

But let’s take a look at what our government has tried to do over the last century to help us eat right and be healthy, productive members of society. (Forgive me for using Wikipedia for so many of these but it had the most concise collections of information)

The nutritional guidelines of the past 100 years have all agreed on a few things:

  • eat a variety of foods
  • watch your total calories
  • get lots of micro-nutrients
  • avoid excess sugar, fat and starch

I don’t think anyone is going to argue those points (I’ll address the fat thing in a little bit, be patient)

The great agricultural improvements that followed the post industrial revolution growth of cities quickly led to an America populated with people who ate whatever was for sale at their local store. The stores quickly gravitated to selling what would last longest on the shelf and what people bought the most frequently. Canned foods with additives, pasteurized products, and things you could dry out and store were the top sellers for along time. By the 1930's refrigeration became wide spread and a whole new market opened up for fresh milk, meats and fruits. People left the farms and quit eating what they could grow or pick seasonally. This meant from the late 19th century to the early 20th century the average American meal got saltier, starchier, and contained fewer beneficial microbes. But hey! We needed to feed a growing nation and calories are calories! (They're not I'll get to that in a bit also)

This seems like a good place for a arbitrarily link to one of my favorite turn-of-the-20th-century grocery stories (you have those too right?)

Back to the point!

 To help Americans pick better foods off the shelves the government introduced the idea of splitting food up into basic groups so we’d know which foods we should be eating and we could be sure to get some from each group. After the Great Depression they had to alter their charts to show people how to get varied food on a budget and from dwindling options. By WWII nutrition got more complex with the new understanding of beneficial micro-nutrients (they called them vitamins & minerals when I was a tadpole). To explain this to people the USDA guides had to get more complex. The five basic food groups (meat & milk, fruit & veggies, cereal, fat, and sugar) grew in to 7 (green & yellow veggies, citrus fruits/cabbage/bitter greens, potatoes & really sugary fruits, milk & cheese, meat/poultry/fish, bread/flour/cereals, and butter/margarine.)  If this seems like they made it unnecessarily hard, keep in mind that the 1940’s were loaded with very smart people trying to make sense of the mysterious and unseen universe with very little solid data (including the molecules we consume to live).

Over the next 40 years our understanding of nutrition must have skyrocketed because we cut back to 4 groups (fruits & veggies, dairy, meats, cereals & breads) This is the streamlined logical grouping I’d expect from the people who put awesome fins on family sedans so we could all drive something that looked like a rocket. Those people had class (as long as you didn’t want civil rights).

When I was a kid this was how it was introduced to me:  4 basic food groups! I was happy and healthy and eating in a simpler world. Then, about the time I graduated high school everything changed.

In 1992 everything changed when we went to the now infamous FOOD PYRAMID!!!

It rearranged our food into 6 food groups (fats/oils/sweets, milk/yogurt/cheese, meat/poultry/fish/dry beans/eggs/nuts, fruits, vegetables, bread/cereal/rice/pasta) and listed them by how many servings you were supposed to have per day. The more servings you were supposed to eat in a day, the larger the section of the pyramid. You might expect a healthy food chart to have veggies as the largest portion but the grain, meat and dairy industries are the largest parts of US agribusiness and they are heavily subsidized by the USDA, so grains got the biggest section and meat and dairy split a level second from the top. They reserved the tip-top for sugars, fats and other bad, bad things.

Since some of those Wikipedia reference links go nowhere I thought I'd throw in a good link to substantiate the clearly ludicrous and defamatory statements I just made)

quote: “The USDA refers to fresh fruits and vegetables as “specialty crops.” Specialty crops do not receive subsidies. In fact, farmers who participate in commodity subsidy programs are generally prohibited from growing fruits and vegetables” This was apparently enacted in 1996 after the 1992 food pyramid, mentioned above, but maybe it speaks to the attitude and policies that were already in place. It's close enough to a good point for the internet.

This Washington Post article says the same basic thing. We spend billions to subsidize food we don’t eat or shouldn’t eat as much while discouraging farmers from growing the food we tell Americans they should grow. This sounds like bureaucracy at work. Remember way back up the page when I played devil’s advocate? Now I wish I hadn’t.

That makes me a little sad :(

Interesting but unrelated fact all vegetable and fruit production in the USA is publicly traded as futures except onions.

Now I feel better.

So the food pyramid wasn’t just badly organized, confusing, or based on incorrect data it was out-and-out corrupted by an agribusiness lobby that justifies billions of $$$ per year in subsidies to exist. We have been betrayed by the people who give us cheese stuffed, pretzel crust, hot wing pizza!!!

In 2005 they changed the food pyramid into My Pyramid. Now it sounds personal, like you’re helping. They have a little man walking up some stairs to represent being active. They changed the generic phrase "servings" into actual quantities. The largest percentage is still grains, followed by fruits & veggies, then dairy, then meat and lastly fatty oils.

Their recommendations are as follows:

  • "Grains, recommending that at least half of grains consumed be as whole grains (27%)"
  • "Vegetables, emphasizing dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, and dry beans and peas (23%)"
  • "Fruits, emphasizing variety and deemphasizing fruit juices (15%)"
  • "Oils, recommending fish, nut, and vegetables sources (2%)"
  • "Milk, a category that includes fluid milk and many other milk-based products (23%)"
  • "Meat and beans, emphasizing low-fat and lean meats such as fish as well as more beans, peas, nuts, and seeds (10%)"

Hang in there dear readers, there's one more step to go! That step is MyPlate! (Here's their guidelines) It was launched last year and I must say it's at least a symbolic improvement over the pyramid. They've kept the same basic recommendations as MyPyramid including encouraging people to get exercise. Hooray for the power of positivity.

Now let's talk about what's been wrong with all this crap since day one. These next few slides are representations of how 100 years of federal food groups have been changed and reorganized.

We kick off our government guidelines to good nutrition while in the midst of a good 'ole fashioned War-to-End-All-Wars. Don't let the kaiser get into your larder!

Then we move some stuff around and add some new foods thanks to post WWII prosperity and refrigeration.

The "sugar" category sort of goes away for a few decades and we rearrange fruit based on what countries aren't filled with Nazis and Japs. Also we get ice cream!

The more sensible people of the 1950's simplify things for the more streamlined modern kitchen. Also we can't buy food from the filthy pinko-commies so I hope you don't want authentic Cuban cuisine outside of Miami for about 60 years.

The grain group grows. We start consuming pasta and rice. Maybe those soldiers who served in the Pacific and Italy developed some new cravings....or maybe we needed to feed more people than ever before and simple grains exported from former axis power controlled countries that now need our dollars to rebuild are the most bang for the buck.

With the advent of the personal computer and the information age on our doorstep we needed to get smart about nutrition. Instead, in 1992 the government decided to make eating a more complicated game. More categories, more servings, more good foods and bad foods. They turned nutrition into an overly complex x-box game for a nation of people who are steadily becoming more sedentary, more unhealthy, and more obese. the shining diamond among the turds of nutritional policy was probably the change in attitude to trans-fats (although you can't see it on the chart) The previous decades had seen a war waged on fat and the switch to new "healthier" man-made trans-fats. Only now did we begin to see the error of our ways. In the 20 years since the 1992 grouping of foods came out we've slowly fought the idea of Trans-fats and only just outlawed them. I'm a bit concerned about that. They didn't make food illegal in 1916, 1943, or 1956 they just made suggestions.......which helped to turn us into a nation of obese, diabetic, heart attack magnets.

I will also note that in the years since the previous food groups were arranged, the average American citizen had gained the ability to finance everything including food (credit card debt for groceries is still a real thing)

So, with so much on the line, they split up fruits and vegetables into separate groups and came up with a "serving" size. I used duplicate images to represent the actual number of servings they suggested.

Where do I go from here?

Well, 100 years of food groups all agree that we shouldn't eat much fat. Except that when we removed animal fat from the average American's diet obesity and heart disease rates began to soar. CDC web page has a cool power point on the last 30+ years of this ---> link

But what about heart disease? Fat causes heart disease! Well, saturated fats do seem to be a problem if they are from the wrong sources and you eat a high carbohydrate diet. In many corners of nutritional science the opinion on fats seems to be turning around. ( example #1 example #2 example #3 example #4)

Fat intake affects cholesterol but that science is changing too with a new understanding of long and short particles of LDL cholesterol Don't believe me? Good I'm not a Dr. But these people are. (that's a very long podcast by Dr Rhonda Patrick, if you are interested in this topic, please take the time to watch it.

All the nutritional policies agreed we should avoid excess sugar but after 100 years there is more refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup in more types of foods not less. (this site doesn't differentiate between sugar types but it's kind of neat to see the piles of sugar cubes)

Simple carbohydrates do stress the living crap out of your insulin response and it looks like that's why diabetes is on the rise. I have friends who eat based solely on the glycemic index. Our nation consumes so much sugar and simple carbs that we rev our insulin response up to dangerous levels constantly. This is like driving your car everywhere in second gear (it just occurred to me that many of you might not know what a gear is). We over-rev our insulin production until it means nothing to our bodies and then BAM! Diabetes.

Or that's the ketogenic philosophy anyway.

To return to the devil's advocate roll for a minute, I found this article on bbc.com. It cites scientists who are making a very clear argument against the high-fat/low-carb diet.

To abandon the devil's advocate roll again I could argue that 19 people on a diet is an awfully small sample group and 2 weeks isn't enough time to show effective adaption to burning fat after decades of high carbohydrate consumption but I'm not a scientist so I'm just talking out of my ass. Oh well, in their own words "All diets 'work' if you stick to an eating plan that cuts calories, whether from fat or carbohydrate, but sticking to a diet is easier said than done, especially given the prolonged time it takes to lose weight." Yes, if your goal is to lose weight then just intake fewer calories than you burn up. So eat 2000 calories of just refined sugar and you too can lose weight. (That's called hyperbole, folks!)

Back to the food groups. It's hard to take a nation of hundreds of millions of people and get them to exercise regularly and eat healthy foods. Various lifestyles, income, genetics, and philosophies make is an almost doomed task but the people at the USDA keep trying. In the face of mega-corporate profits from soda and chips how do you teach a nation discipline? How do you raise your kids to be adults who eat enough dietary fiber, meat, and drink enough water every day so that when they want a greasy cheese burger or an ice cream cake it's not measurably deducting time or quality from the end of their life? I don't know. 

On that I'll leave you with one more cool link: the nutrient content of the US food supply 1909 to 1997

It's packed with interesting charts and figures that show the change in what food was available and consumed for most of the last century. You can see the changes in levels and sources of all our macro-nutrients. Some of them may surprise you. For example: We eat as many carbs now as we did 100 years ago but now they come from different sources. We eat more protein and we eat more fat. But the sources have shifted notably.

Okay, that's enough writing for today. I do have a regular job you know.