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Acne Results from High-Fat, High-Protein Diets

Many peo­ple think that acne is a nat­ur­al result of being a teenag­er. Yet the teenagers in many parts of the world are remark­ably free of acne. The low rate of acne in those pop­u­la­tions is not due to their genes. It is due to their low-fat, heav­i­ly plant-based diet. When peo­ple from those coun­tries grow up in the Unit­ed States, they gen­er­al­ly eat a typ­i­cal Amer­i­can diet which is rich in fat and ani­mal-source foods. As a result, they too tend to get acne in their teenage years.

The rich, fat­ty, Amer­i­can-style diet increas­es your risk of acne. It sup­plies a lot of fat, which can make your skin oily. It also con­tains lots of ani­mal-source foods, which can lead to an over­load of two types of hor­mones: male sex hor­mones (andro­gens) and a growth hor­mone called insulin-like growth fac­tor 1 (IGF-1). These two hor­mones work togeth­er to cause acne. That’s why acne tends to start when chil­dren go through puber­ty.

Types of acne pimples
The stan­dard Amer­i­can diet caus­es acne by caus­ing the skin to pro­duce too much oil and the skin cells to divide too fast. As a result, the pores can get blocked, which may lead to infec­tion.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Acne Results from High-Fat, High-Pro­tein Diets”

The Blood Type Diet Is Nonsense. Everyone Should Eat Plants!

In 1996, a man named “Dr.” Peter J. D’Adamo pub­lished Eat Right For Your Type. This book pro­mot­ed the “blood type diet.” It claimed that your diet should be based on your ABO blood type (type A, B, AB, or O). The ABO sys­tem of blood typ­ing is impor­tant in blood trans­fu­sion. Get­ting a trans­fu­sion of the wrong type of blood can kill you. How­ev­er, there is no sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence that your blood type has any­thing to do with how your body reacts to food. Peo­ple of any blood type thrive on a low-fat, plant-based diet.

The things that D’Adamo says about the nat­ur­al his­to­ry of the dif­fer­ent blood types are wrong. So are the things he says about the effects of blood type on the body. Worst of all, D’Adamo gives par­tic­u­lar­ly bad dietary advice to the peo­ple with the most com­mon blood type. I sus­pect that his book has been so pop­u­lar because he has been telling a lot of peo­ple exact­ly what they want to hear. He has been telling the peo­ple with the most com­mon blood type that they need to eat a lot of fat­ty meat.

The Blood Type Diet theory

D’Adamo claims that type O was the orig­i­nal blood type of cave­men. Sup­pos­ed­ly, mod­ern-day peo­ple with type O blood should there­fore avoid eat­ing grains, espe­cial­ly wheat. Instead, they should sup­pos­ed­ly eat a meat-based diet. D’Adamo also claims that type A blood result­ed from the rise of agri­cul­ture. It sup­pos­ed­ly allows peo­ple to eat a high-car­bo­hy­drate diet. He argues that peo­ple with type A blood can there­fore eat a Mediter­ranean style diet based on grains and veg­eta­bles.

D’Adamo claims that type B arose in Asia, among Mon­go­lian herds­men. Thus, he argues that peo­ple with type B blood should eat a lot of cul­tured dairy prod­ucts. D’Adamo argues that peo­ple with type AB blood should eat a mixed diet. How­ev­er, he thinks that they should avoid eat­ing starch­es and pro­teins in the same meal.

D’Adamo also sells a broad range of prod­ucts. D’Adamo sells kits for test­ing your blood and sali­va. He sells a broad range of foods, teas, and dietary sup­ple­ments. He also sells skin care prod­ucts. Of course he does! The fact that he has such an exten­sive prod­uct line is a bad sign. Every sin­gle nutri­tion text­book I have ever read says that we should get our nutri­ents from food, not pills. Be wary of tak­ing any nutri­tion­al advice from some­one who sells sup­ple­ments!

But gorillas have type B blood!

Of course, D’Adamo is total­ly wrong about the his­to­ry of blood types. You can find types A and B in mon­keys and apes. All of the African and Asian pri­mates have some ver­sion of the ABO blood types. Mod­ern-day goril­las usu­al­ly have some­thing sim­i­lar to human type B. A few have some­thing like human type O, but none have human type A. Mod­ern-day baboons and orang­utans have a ver­sion of type A. Most chim­panzees also have a ver­sion of type A, but a few have some­thing sim­i­lar to human type O.  There is a lot of debate about this top­ic. How­ev­er, the con­sen­sus is that the ances­tral blood type was type A and that type B may have evolved sep­a­rate­ly sev­er­al times. The human AB blood type is just the result of some­one inher­it­ing the type A gene from one par­ent and the type B gene from the oth­er.

Why is type O so com­mon in mod­ern humans? Sci­en­tists are still not sure. One the­o­ry is that hav­ing type O blood makes you more like­ly to sur­vive a case of fal­ci­parum malar­ia, which is the worst form of malar­ia.

D’Adamo insists that peo­ple with type O blood should eat a meat-based Paleo-style diet. He insists that only peo­ple with type A blood should eat a veg­e­tar­i­an or veg­an diet. Yet there is no evi­dence that any­one would have bet­ter gen­er­al health on a Paleo-style diet. Extreme­ly low-carb (keto­genic) diets are some­times used as a treat­ment for severe epilep­sy in chil­dren. These diets work by mim­ic­k­ing the effect of fast­ing, but with­out caus­ing the per­son to starve.  How­ev­er, these low-carb diets are not good for the child’s gen­er­al health. In fact, they can stunt the child’s growth. The keto­genic diet can even cause severe side-effects, such as pan­cre­ati­tis.

ND stands for “not a doctor”

D’Adamo is often called “doc­tor.” But he is not a med­ical doc­tor (MD). Nor does he have a doc­tor of phi­los­o­phy (PhD) or a doc­tor of sci­ence (DSc) degree. Instead he has a doc­tor of natur­o­path­ic med­i­cine (ND) degree from Bastyr Uni­ver­si­ty. Bastyr is a school for peo­ple who want to go into an alter­na­tive health trade, such as natur­opa­thy or acupunc­ture. D’Adamo has taught at some oth­er schools, but they are just oth­er natur­opa­thy schools. In the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, the schools of natur­opa­thy lost their abil­i­ty to grant MD degrees, because they refused to pro­vide a good enough sci­ence edu­ca­tion. Nev­er­the­less the natur­opaths have been fight­ing hard to get licen­sure to prac­tice as pri­ma­ry care providers. For infor­ma­tion about natur­opa­thy, see Natur­o­path­ic Diaries, the blog of ex-natur­opath Britt Marie Her­mes.

D’Adamo describes him­self as a researcher. How­ev­er, real researchers write arti­cles about their research. Those arti­cles then get pub­lished in sci­en­tif­ic and med­ical jour­nals. When I searched for P. J. D’Adamo in MEDLINE, I couldn’t find even one cita­tion. In oth­er words, D’Adamo has nev­er writ­ten even one arti­cle that any sci­en­tif­ic or med­ical jour­nal has seen fit to print. When I searched for his name in www.clinicaltrials.gov, I couldn’t find him list­ed as the main inves­ti­ga­tor of even one clin­i­cal study.

The real science of blood typing

The blood type diet is just an attempt to hijack the pres­tige of some real sci­en­tif­ic advance. The ABO blood typ­ing sys­tem was dis­cov­ered in 1900 by an Aus­tri­an immu­nol­o­gist named Karl Land­stein­er. Land­stein­er even­tu­al­ly won the Nobel Prize for this dis­cov­ery.

Your blood type is extreme­ly impor­tant if you need a blood trans­fu­sion. Even if you get blood that is well-matched to your own, you could suf­fer from fever and chills, as your immune sys­tem reacts to some unfa­mil­iar pro­teins from the donor. How­ev­er, if you get red blood cells of the wrong ABO blood type, your body may mis­take those red blood cells for a dan­ger­ous for­eign invad­er. As a result, your body’s anti­bod­ies could attack and kill those donat­ed red blood cells. In severe cas­es, the immune sys­tem will tear the for­eign red blood cells apart. This prob­lem, called an acute hemolyt­ic trans­fu­sion reac­tion, can kill you by caus­ing severe blood clot­ting.

The ABO sys­tem was the first set of blood types to be dis­cov­ered. Lat­er researchers revealed the Rh types (pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive). Peo­ple with AB-pos­i­tive blood (ABO type AB and Rh-pos­i­tive) can receive blood trans­fu­sions from prac­ti­cal­ly any­one. Peo­ple with O-neg­a­tive blood can donate to prac­ti­cal­ly any­one.

Blood typ­ing is also impor­tant in foren­sic med­i­cine. Before the days of DNA test­ing, it was often used to rule out sus­pects in cer­tain kinds of crimes. If you know that the per­pe­tra­tor had type A blood, you can rule out sus­pects with type O, B, or AB blood. In the days before DNA test­ing, blood typ­ing was impor­tant in pater­ni­ty cas­es. If a child has type A blood but his moth­er has type O blood, you know that the father must have had type A blood.

In oth­er words, blood typ­ing is extreme­ly impor­tant in trans­fu­sion med­i­cine and has been impor­tant in foren­sic med­i­cine. How­ev­er, there is no rea­son to believe that the dif­fer­ent blood types rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent stages in human evo­lu­tion. Nor is there any rea­son to believe that your blood type will let you pre­dict how you will react to a par­tic­u­lar diet. D’Adamo claims that a low-fat, veg­an diet should be reserved for peo­ple with type A blood. In real­i­ty, it’s the best diet for peo­ple with any blood type.

Pho­to by GreenFlames09

Do I Need Blood Pressure Medication?

Rough­ly one out of three adults in the Unit­ed States have high blood pres­sure. Only half of those with high blood pres­sure have it under con­trol. High blood pres­sure can be a seri­ous prob­lem. It can dam­age your blood ves­sels, par­tic­u­lar­ly in your kid­neys and your brain. Even­tu­al­ly, it can also dam­age the valves in your heart. Preg­nant women are prone to a form of high blood pres­sure called preeclamp­sia, which is dan­ger­ous to the woman and her baby. For these rea­sons, mil­lions of peo­ple are tak­ing med­ica­tions to con­trol their blood pres­sure. Yet med­ica­tion is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the best way to con­trol blood pres­sure. Yes, it can reduce the blood pres­sure. How­ev­er, the med­ica­tions do not cure the under­ly­ing prob­lem that caused the high blood pres­sure. The best way to solve the blood pres­sure prob­lem is to solve the cir­cu­la­to­ry prob­lem by eat­ing a low-fat veg­an diet.

Blood pres­sure results from the force exert­ed by the heart as it beats. Blood pres­sure is mea­sured in mil­lime­ters of mer­cury (mm Hg) because blood pres­sure was orig­i­nal­ly mea­sured with a tube that con­tained mer­cury, which is a liq­uid met­al. The high­er the pres­sure, the high­er the col­umn of mer­cury in the tube would be. A blood pres­sure mea­sure­ment con­sists of two num­bers: the sys­tolic and dias­tolic pres­sure. The sys­tolic pres­sure rep­re­sents the pres­sure that is exert­ed when the heart con­tracts and push­es the blood into the arter­ies. The dias­tolic pres­sure rep­re­sents the pres­sure when the heart is relax­ing and refill­ing between beats.

To under­stand blood pres­sure, you need to under­stand that the heart is try­ing to keep enough blood flow­ing through the blood ves­sels to serve the body’s needs. High blood pres­sure is a sign that the heart is strug­gling to over­come high resis­tance in the cir­cu­la­to­ry sys­tem. You can use med­ica­tion to bring down the pres­sure; how­ev­er, the blood pres­sure med­ica­tion does not cor­rect the prob­lem of resis­tance in the cir­cu­la­to­ry sys­tem. For­tu­nate­ly, you can often solve the cir­cu­la­to­ry prob­lem through a change in diet.

Blood is a flu­id. Like oth­er flu­ids, it fol­lows the basic rules of physics, includ­ing a rela­tion­ship called Poiseuille’s [pwah-zweez]) Law . Poiseuille’s Law is a math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tion that describes the rela­tion­ship between the rate of flow of a flu­id through a tube and the radius of the tube, the length of the tube, the vis­cos­i­ty (resis­tance to flow) of the liq­uid, and the drop in pres­sure from the begin­ning to the end of the tube. This rela­tion­ship is usu­al­ly shown as fol­lows:

Pres­sure drop = (8 × vis­cos­i­ty × length × flow rate) / (π × radius4)

You can also express Poiseuille’s Law as fol­lows:

Flow rate = (π × radius4 × pres­sure drop)/(8 × vis­cos­i­ty × length)

From this equa­tion, you can make some impor­tant pre­dic­tions:

  • If you dou­ble the pres­sure, but kept every­thing else the same, you would dou­ble the flow. That’s why the heart has to beat hard­er to increase blood flow.
  • If you dou­ble the vis­cos­i­ty of the blood (i.e., make the blood twice as thick) but kept every­thing else the same, you would cut blood flow in half.
  • If you dou­bled the length of the blood ves­sels (which hap­pens if the per­son gains a lot of weight) but kept every­thing else the same, you would cut the blood flow in half.
  • If you dou­bled the radius of the blood ves­sel, but kept every­thing else the same, you would increase the flow by 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 = 16-fold! Like­wise, if you decreased the radius of the blood ves­sel by half, you would decrease the flow by 93.75%!

Once you under­stand these rela­tion­ships, you can see why peo­ple get high blood pres­sure. If you eat a fat­ty diet, you will like­ly gain some weight and make your blood a bit thick­er. As a result, your heart will have to beat a lit­tle bit hard­er to keep your blood flow­ing. How­ev­er, a fat­ty diet also clogs your arter­ies. Also, even a sin­gle fat­ty meal can make your blood ves­sels con­strict. As a result, your heart will have to beat a lot hard­er to keep blood flow­ing. The weight gain and the thick­en­ing of the blood will make your blood pres­sure go up a lit­tle, while clogged arter­ies and vaso­con­stric­tion will make it go up a lot!

You can take med­ica­tion to make your blood pres­sure go down, but this med­ica­tion will not solve the under­ly­ing prob­lem of poor cir­cu­la­tion. To solve your cir­cu­la­to­ry prob­lem, you need to keep your blood flu­id and keep your arter­ies clean and flex­i­ble. The best way to do that is to eat a low-fat veg­an diet. This kind of diet works so fast to reduce blood pres­sure that many peo­ple can imme­di­ate­ly stop tak­ing their blood pres­sure med­ica­tion.

The high blood pres­sure that occurs in late preg­nan­cy (pre-eclamp­sia) is a dif­fer­ent prob­lem. It results from a short­age of pro­tein in the blood plas­ma. This prob­lem occurs if the woman is not get­ting enough to eat or if she is eat­ing way too much fat. Either way, she will end up con­vert­ing too much of her plas­ma pro­teins to sug­ar. As a result, she will not have enough plas­ma pro­tein to hold enough flu­id inside her blood ves­sels to sup­port a healthy preg­nan­cy. To try to cor­rect this prob­lem, the kid­neys will release renin, which will acti­vate the renin-angiotensin-aldos­terone sys­tem. The angiotensin will make the arter­ies con­strict. The aldos­terone will make the woman retain salt and water. But since she does not have enough pro­tein in her blood to keep that extra flu­id inside her blood ves­sels, it will leak out into her tis­sue. As a result, she will have dan­ger­ous­ly high blood pres­sure as well as swelling. The sur­pris­ing solu­tion to this prob­lem is to eat a lot of starch and very lit­tle fat. Women who eat a lot of car­bo­hy­drate will con­vert very lit­tle pro­tein to sug­ar. As a result, they will have nor­mal blood pres­sure as well as sta­ble blood sug­ar lev­els.

Science journal spreads false rumors about vegan diet

An arti­cle pub­lished this week in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences (PNAS) claims that it would be a dis­as­ter for pub­lic health if the pop­u­la­tion of the Unit­ed States sud­den­ly went veg­an. Yet the authors are not experts on human nutri­tion or pub­lic health. Instead, they are experts on how to feed live­stock. Their con­clu­sions were not based on any actu­al stud­ies of the health of veg­an human beings. The study’s authors even freely admit that plant-based diets have sev­er­al impor­tant advan­tages:

  • Shift­ing to a plant-based diet would increase the amount of food avail­able for human beings.
  • A plant-based diet requires peo­ple to eat a greater vol­ume of food, to main­tain the same weight. [As I have explained in two of my books, this is why a veg­an diet is the key to solv­ing our epi­demics of obe­si­ty and type 2 dia­betes.]
  • The 2015 Dietary Guide­lines Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee con­clud­ed that plant-based diets would improve health and improve long-term sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the US food sup­ply.

Nev­er­the­less, the authors of the PNAS arti­cle claimed that the plant-based diet would be defi­cient in sev­er­al impor­tant nutri­ents. Yet they did not back up this claim with any stud­ies that showed that veg­ans are real­ly like­ly to have health prob­lems as a result of nutri­ent defi­cien­cies. The authors wrote, “How­ev­er, with­out ani­mal-derived foods, domes­tic sup­plies of Ca [cal­ci­um]; arachi­don­ic, eicos­apen­taenoic, and docosa­hexaenoic fat­ty acids; and vit­a­mins A and B12 were insuf­fi­cient to meet the require­ments of the US pop­u­la­tion.” That claim is absolute­ly ridicu­lous, for the fol­low­ing rea­sons:

    • Although you do need to get some cal­ci­um from your diet, it is prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble to find actu­al cas­es of peo­ple who did not get enough cal­ci­um from their food. Prob­lems with cal­ci­um bal­ance in the body usu­al­ly result from lack of vit­a­min D or from long-term con­sump­tion of high-pro­tein, high-cal­ci­um diets.
    • The Food and Nutri­tion Board of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences does not con­sid­er arachi­don­ic acid, eicos­apen­taenoic acid, or docosa­hexaenoic acid to be essen­tial in human nutri­tion. In oth­er words, human beings do not need to get them from their food. The only essen­tial fat­ty acids are an omega-6 fat­ty acid called linole­ic acid and an omega-3 fat­ty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. Linole­ic acid is plen­ti­ful in grains, nuts, and seeds. Alpha-linole­ic acid comes from the chloro­plas­ts in green plants and is plen­ti­ful in fresh veg­eta­bles. The require­ment for both of these essen­tial fat­ty acids is so small that it was not even dis­cov­ered until hos­pi­tal­ized patients were being fed noth­ing but fat-free intra­venous solu­tions for a long time.
    • Human beings can eas­i­ly meet their require­ments for vit­a­min A by eat­ing beta-carotene, which is plen­ti­ful in dark green, orange, or yel­low veg­eta­bles.
    • Vit­a­min B12 is the only true vit­a­min that is like­ly to be defi­cient in plant-based diets. Vit­a­min B12 is made by bac­te­ria, not by ani­mals, and can be obtained from a cheap sup­ple­ment.
    • The arti­cle also warns about dietary defi­cien­cy of vit­a­min D. Yet vit­a­min D is not a true vit­a­min. It is a hor­mone that your body can make for itself, for free, if you expose your skin to sun­shine. You don’t need to get “the sun­shine vit­a­min” from your food.

The PNAS arti­cle warns us that a shift to a veg­an diet would cause big changes to the econ­o­my. In par­tic­u­lar, it would be dis­as­trous for the live­stock indus­try. (Note that the authors of the PNAS arti­cle are aca­d­e­mics who have devot­ed their careers to serv­ing the live­stock indus­try, not to study­ing human health. This explains why they know so lit­tle about human nutri­tion and nutri­tion­al epi­demi­ol­o­gy.) A switch to a veg­an diet would also be a dis­as­ter for the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try. Many peo­ple who shift to a low-fat, plant-based diet can stop tak­ing most or all of their pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tions. These changes would be good for pub­lic health, though bad for indus­try.

PNAS is a pres­ti­gious jour­nal. Yet like oth­er pres­ti­gious jour­nals, it occa­sion­al­ly pub­lish­es arti­cles that are full of non­sense. Like­wise, I imag­ine that PNAS prob­a­bly also rejects some good arti­cles for stu­pid rea­sons. I have worked for peer-reviewed jour­nals, and I have also sub­mit­ted arti­cles to oth­er peer-reviewed jour­nals, so I have seen the prob­lem from both sides, as I explain in this blog post. The mis­take that the edi­tors of PNAS made in this case was to fail to have this arti­cle reviewed by some­one who is a gen­uine expert in human nutri­tion and nutri­tion­al epi­demi­ol­o­gy. As a result, they end­ed up spread­ing live­stock indus­try pro­pa­gan­da.

Is Coconut Oil Good for You?

Late­ly, food fad­dists have been claim­ing that coconut oil is a health food. They claim that it will help you lose weight. In real­i­ty, coconut oil is as fat­ten­ing as any oth­er fat. Some peo­ple even claim that coconut oil can cure Alzheimer’s dis­ease. In real­i­ty, coconut oil can pro­mote ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis, which is an impor­tant cause of vas­cu­lar demen­tia. Also, fats of any kind, includ­ing coconut oil, tend to make your body less sen­si­tive to insulin. For this rea­son, eat­ing coconut oil would prob­a­bly make type 2 dia­betes worse. Coconut oil could even make Alzheimer’s dis­ease worse, since Alzheimer’s dis­ease seems to be relat­ed to insulin resis­tance in the brain. So why are peo­ple pro­mot­ing coconut oil for brain health? The idea that coconut oil is good for your brain came out of the fact that some of the fat­ty acids from coconut oil are use­ful as part of a diet for chil­dren with severe epilep­sy.

Epilep­sy is a con­di­tion in which peo­ple suf­fer from seizures. A seizure is an elec­tri­cal storm with­in the brain. In ancient times, epilep­sy was called “the falling sick­ness” because it often caus­es peo­ple to lose con­scious­ness sud­den­ly. How­ev­er, “par­tial” seizures may sim­ply cause altered men­tal states or uncon­trolled move­ments of the body. Many ancient peo­ple thought that epilep­sy was caused by the gods or by evil spir­its. How­ev­er, the ancient Greek physi­cian Hip­pocrates explained that epilep­sy was an ordi­nary phys­i­cal dis­ease, with phys­i­cal caus­es. The ancient Greeks knew that some peo­ple with epilep­sy did not have seizures while they were fast­ing. Of course, you can­not fast for­ev­er. You have to eat some­thing even­tu­al­ly, or you will starve to death. Once the per­son with epilep­sy resumed eat­ing food, the seizures would start up again.

By the 1920s, physi­cians were look­ing for a way to mim­ic some of the effects of fast­ing, with­out starv­ing the patient to death. They knew that fast­ing caus­es keto­sis, which is the buildup of chem­i­cals called ketone bod­ies in the blood­stream. But they knew that you could also get keto­sis from eat­ing an extreme­ly low-car­bo­hy­drate diet. For rea­sons that are still unclear, keto­sis sup­press­es seizures in many peo­ple with epilep­sy. For this rea­son, an extreme­ly high-fat, low-car­bo­hy­drate “keto­genic” diet has been used since the ear­ly 1920s for the man­age­ment of treat­ment-resis­tant epilep­sy in chil­dren.

Why does an extreme­ly low-carb diet cause keto­sis? Even in the 1920s, it was obvi­ous that keto­sis meant that the liv­er was mak­ing huge amounts of sug­ar. Much of the sug­ar in the blood­stream of some­one with untreat­ed dia­betes does not come from the starch or sug­ar in the food. Instead, it has been made out of pro­tein from the food and from the body’s tis­sues. If the insulin-pro­duc­ing beta cells in the pan­creas stop mak­ing insulin, the alpha cells in the pan­creas assume that the blood sug­ar lev­el must be low. As a result, the alpha cells will make huge amounts of a hor­mone called glucagon. Glucagon tells the liv­er to make glu­cose, to bring blood sug­ar lev­els back up to nor­mal. An over­dose of insulin kills peo­ple by pre­vent­ing their pan­creas from releas­ing glucagon, which would tell the liv­er to release glu­cose to cor­rect the low blood sug­ar. That’s why glucagon is used as an anti­dote to insulin over­dose.

The liv­er makes a lot of glu­cose out of its stores of a starch called glyco­gen. How­ev­er, the liv­er can also make glu­cose out of amino acids (the build­ing blocks of pro­tein) and oth­er non­car­bo­hy­drates. When the liv­er is mak­ing a lot of glu­cose, it may start to use up one of the mate­ri­als that it needs for break­ing fat down com­plete­ly into car­bon diox­ide and water. As a result, more of the fat is processed through an alter­na­tive path­way that pro­duces ketone bod­ies as byprod­ucts.

If you are fast­ing, a lit­tle bit of keto­sis is a good thing. Some of your brain cells can use some of the ketone bod­ies as an alter­na­tive fuel source. But the severe keto­sis that goes along with severe­ly high blood sug­ar in some­one with untreat­ed type 1 dia­betes is a life-threat­en­ing emer­gency.
You can get keto­sis from fast­ing, but you can also get it from an extreme­ly low-car­bo­hy­drate diet. That is why chil­dren with severe epilep­sy are some­times fed an extreme­ly low-car­bo­hy­drate (keto­genic) diet. This keto­genic diet has some impor­tant draw­backs. For one thing, it tends to stunt children’s growth, and it can lead to some severe side effects, includ­ing inflam­ma­tion of the pan­creas. Anoth­er draw­back is that chil­dren do not like the diet, main­ly because their food choic­es are lim­it­ed. Eat­ing even a lit­tle bit of car­bo­hy­drate stops the keto­sis. For this rea­son, it is hard to get chil­dren to stick to the diet well enough to get ben­e­fits.

Most of the fats in our food con­tain main­ly long-chain fat­ty acids. How­ev­er, nutri­tion researchers real­ized that short- and medi­um-chain fat­ty acids are bet­ter at pro­duc­ing keto­sis. Per­haps it is because the short­er-chain fat­ty acids go straight to the liv­er from the intes­tine. The longer fat­ty acids are absorbed through a dif­fer­ent path­way, which does not go through the liv­er before it reach­es the gen­er­al cir­cu­la­tion. Coconut oil is a rel­a­tive­ly rich source of medi­um-chain fat­ty acids. So if you feed an epilep­tic child coconut oil, you can let them eat a bit more car­bo­hy­drate and pro­tein, while still keep­ing them in keto­sis.

Since coconut oil is so good at gen­er­at­ing ketone bod­ies, there has been some inter­est in it for patients with Alzheimer’s dis­ease. In Alzheimer’s dis­ease, the brain is hav­ing some trou­ble with using glu­cose for ener­gy. For this rea­son, some researchers sus­pect that the brain of some­one with Alzheimer’s dis­ease might work bet­ter if some ketone bod­ies were avail­able. Yet this the­o­ry remains unproven.

The keto­genic diet is use­ful in cas­es of child­hood epilep­sy that do not respond to any oth­er treat­ment. How­ev­er, it is not a health-pro­mot­ing diet for the gen­er­al pub­lic. No soci­ety on earth has ever sub­sist­ed on a keto­genic diet for any length of time. Even Inu­it (Eski­mo) peo­ple, who lived on noth­ing but fat­ty meats and fish dur­ing the win­ter, did not go into keto­sis unless they were fast­ing. Also, there is plen­ty of evi­dence that high-fat, low-car­bo­hy­drate diets lead to rapid aging and ear­ly death, even if they do not pro­duce keto­sis.

Like anti­seizure drugs, a keto­genic diet may be good for some chil­dren with epilep­sy but should not be rou­tine­ly giv­en to peo­ple who do not have epilep­sy. Unless you have treat­ment-resis­tant epilep­sy, you would be bet­ter off eat­ing an extreme­ly low-fat, high-car­bo­hy­drate diet based on starch­es and veg­eta­bles. The soci­eties that have tra­di­tion­al­ly used coconut oil tend to have low rates of heart dis­ease. How­ev­er, that is usu­al­ly because their over­all intake of fat and cho­les­terol is low. Most of their calo­ries came from car­bo­hy­drates (starch­es and sug­ars) in the rice and starchy veg­eta­bles (such as sweet pota­toes and poi) that made up the bulk of their diet. Since these peo­ple lived in the trop­ics, they also ate a lot of fruit and veg­eta­bles. Some Poly­ne­sians eat a lot of coconut. How­ev­er, they are gen­er­al­ly eat­ing whole coconut, rather than coconut oil. As a result, they get a lot of pro­tec­tion from the fiber con­tent of the coconut. In the intes­tine, fiber binds to the cho­les­terol that the liv­er pro­duces to help you digest fat. As a result, the cho­les­terol can leave the body with the feces, rather than being reab­sorbed into the blood­stream.

If you want to lose weight and pro­tect your heart and brain, don’t add coconut oil to your diet. Instead, remove oils and ani­mal-source foods from your diet. The pop­u­la­tions that eat a starchy, high-fiber diet based on low-fat plant-source foods have the clean­est arter­ies and the best chance at a long and healthy life.

What Does Ketosis Mean?

 

Keto­sis does not mean that you are los­ing weight. It real­ly just means that your liv­er is turn­ing a lot of pro­tein and oth­er non­car­bo­hy­drates to sug­ar. Today, many peo­ple on the Inter­net are urg­ing peo­ple to eat a keto­genic diet: a diet that is so high in fat and so low in car­bo­hy­drates that it caus­es peo­ple to go into a state of keto­sis. Keto­sis means that “ketone bod­ies,” which are the chem­i­cal byprod­ucts of an alter­na­tive method of burn­ing fat, build up in the blood­stream. Keto­genic diets are often described as “Paleo” because many lay­men imag­ine that human beings must have eat­en keto­genic diets dur­ing the Pale­olith­ic era (ear­ly stone age). Yet there is no rea­son to believe that stone age peo­ple ate a keto­genic diet.

Most peo­ple in the stone age would have eat­en the starchy plant mate­r­i­al, espe­cial­ly roots and tubers, that they could safe­ly and eas­i­ly obtain from their envi­ron­ment. As a result, stone age peo­ple would have got­ten more than enough car­bo­hy­drate to keep them from going into keto­sis. In fact, when anthro­pol­o­gists look at the skele­tal remains of stone age peo­ple, they find starch grains embed­ded in the tar­tar on their teeth. Even the Inuit’s (Eski­mos’) tra­di­tion­al win­ter diet, which con­sist­ed entire­ly of fat­ty meats and fish, did not pro­duce keto­sis. Stud­ies done in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry found that the Inu­it did not get keto­sis unless they were fast­ing. The Inu­it were eat­ing raw meat that was either fresh­ly killed or frozen imme­di­ate­ly after being killed. Unlike the meat you would buy at a super­mar­ket, this fresh or rapid­ly frozen meat still con­tained a starch called glyco­gen. The Inu­it also used a method of meat preser­va­tion that con­vert­ed some pro­tein to sug­ar. As a result, the Inuit’s tra­di­tion­al diet con­tained a sur­pris­ing­ly large amount of car­bo­hy­drate: enough to keep peo­ple out of keto­sis.

It is good that the Inu­it diet did not cause keto­sis. The Inu­it already had extreme­ly high rates of osteo­poro­sis, because of the meta­bol­ic aci­do­sis caused by their high-pro­tein diet. Adding even more acid, in the form of ketone bod­ies, would have made this prob­lem even worse. Eat­ing a lot of cal­ci­um, in the form of fish bones, did not solve this prob­lem.

Some “Paleo” advo­cates claim that keto­sis means that you are burn­ing fat and are there­fore los­ing weight. Some of them even claim that you can­not lose weight or burn fat unless you are in keto­sis, which is total non­sense. The Krebs cycle, which is the body’s nor­mal way of burn­ing fat, does not pro­duce ketone bod­ies. Hav­ing ketones in your urine does not even guar­an­tee that you are los­ing weight. To lose weight, even on a keto­genic diet, you must burn up more calo­ries than you take in. Even on a keto­genic diet, you can still gain weight. The burst of insulin that is released in response to eat­ing foods that con­tain pro­tein could dri­ve the fat from the food into the fat cells.

The keto­sis does not mean that you are los­ing weight. It is sim­ply a sign that your liv­er is turn­ing a lot of non­car­bo­hy­drate sub­stances, includ­ing pro­tein, into a sug­ar called glu­cose. Your liv­er is work­ing so hard to make glu­cose, to com­pen­sate for your low car­bo­hy­drate intake, that it is even using up oxaloac­etate, which is one of the chem­i­cals involved in the Krebs cycle. As a result, some of the fat gets bro­ken down through an abnor­mal path­way that pro­duces ketone bod­ies.

Dur­ing a fast, a lit­tle bit of keto­sis is a good thing. Your brain can use a lit­tle bit of the ketone bod­ies as an alter­na­tive fuel source. In con­trast, the severe keto­sis that results from a severe short­age of insulin in peo­ple with untreat­ed type 1 dia­betes mel­li­tus is life-threat­en­ing. Before the dis­cov­ery of insulin, peo­ple with what is now called type 1 dia­betes would always progress to ketoaci­do­sis, coma, and death. Ketoaci­do­sis means that the keto­sis is so bad that it low­ers the blood pH. Patients with dia­bet­ic ketoaci­do­sis have four prob­lems at once: high blood sug­ar, dehy­dra­tion, low blood pH, and an elec­trolyte imbal­ance. These prob­lems must be cor­rect­ed care­ful­ly, in an inten­sive care unit.

In a healthy per­son, the total amount of ketone bod­ies in the blood is usu­al­ly less than 1 mg/dL. The amount of ketone bod­ies in the urine is nor­mal­ly too low to be detect­ed by rou­tine urine tests. You can boost your pro­duc­tion of ketone bod­ies by fast­ing or by eat­ing a low-car­bo­hy­drate diet. You can get into a state of keto­sis either way. How­ev­er, the effects of a fast are far dif­fer­ent from the effects of a low-car­bo­hy­drate diet. Sci­en­tists are only begin­ning to under­stand the poten­tial ben­e­fits of peri­od­ic fast­ing. Besides being a sure-fire way to lose weight, fast­ing can help to sup­press a run­away inflam­ma­to­ry response. A med­ical­ly super­vised water-only fast is also a use­ful first step in iden­ti­fy­ing which foods might be trig­ger­ing a patient’s health prob­lems. The Paleo advo­cates are hop­ing that eat­ing bacon and eggs—but no toast—would pro­duce the same effect as eat­ing noth­ing at all. It is a fool­ish hope.

Many peo­ple swear by the Paleo diet. They have man­aged to sur­vive on it for months or even years, and they claim that they have achieved oth­er ben­e­fits, such as weight loss. Yet these tes­ti­mo­ni­als should be viewed with great skep­ti­cism. No pop­u­la­tions any­where on earth have man­aged to achieve good health sta­tis­tics or a long life span on a keto­genic diet. The pop­u­la­tions who eat a diet that is most like the keto­genic diet may seem healthy while they are young, but they have long been known to suf­fer from rapid aging and a short life expectan­cy. In con­trast, the pop­u­la­tions with the longest, health­i­est lives are the ones who are eat­ing the oppo­site of a keto­genic diet: they eat a diet based on low-fat plant-based foods. One of the impor­tant find­ings of an enor­mous epi­demi­o­log­ic study called the Chi­na-Cor­nell Oxford Project was that the less ani­mal-source food a pop­u­la­tion eats, the low­er its aver­age cho­les­terol lev­el is and the low­er its risk of death from chron­ic dis­ease is. There did not seem to be any safe lev­el of intake of ani­mal-source foods.

A keto­genic diet may be a use­ful as a des­per­ate attempt to sup­press seizures in chil­dren with some severe forms of epilep­sy. Yet in those chil­dren, the diet can have side effects. It can cause dehy­dra­tion, con­sti­pa­tion, vom­it­ing, high cho­les­terol, and kid­ney stones. Some chil­dren have had severe side effects, such as heart rhythm prob­lems, inflam­ma­tion of the pan­creas, and pos­si­bly loss of cal­ci­um from the bones. In short, a keto­genic diet may be use­ful as a way to treat some rare but seri­ous dis­eases that respond poor­ly to any oth­er avail­able treat­ment. How­ev­er, it is unlike­ly to improve health for the gen­er­al pub­lic in the long run.

Dietary Protein, Not Sugar, Promotes the Growth of Cancer

Some researchers in Bel­gium just did an inter­est­ing study about how can­cer cells use sug­ar. The researchers found that one of the byprod­ucts pro­duced as a result of can­cer cells’ abnor­mal metab­o­lism could be pro­mot­ing the growth of the can­cer. In short, the researchers have fig­ured out a plau­si­ble expla­na­tion for some­thing that had been known since the 1920s: most can­cer cells use anaer­o­bic metab­o­lism, even when plen­ty of oxy­gen is avail­able. By the 1950s, it was clear that tumors that are most like­ly to use anaer­o­bic metab­o­lism tend to be the most aggres­sive. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the reporters who have been cov­er­ing this study for the pop­u­lar press do not under­stand what the study is about or what its results real­ly mean. Many of the reporters have false­ly con­clud­ed that the study shows that some­thing in sug­ar is some­how caus­ing can­cer. As a result, they are urg­ing peo­ple to avoid eat­ing car­bo­hy­drates. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, if peo­ple avoid car­bo­hy­drates, they will end up eat­ing more fat and more pro­tein, and we know that high-pro­tein diets are the real cul­prit in pro­mot­ing the growth of can­cer.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Dietary Pro­tein, Not Sug­ar, Pro­motes the Growth of Can­cer”

Jane Brody’s Misleading Attack on What the Health

New York Times colum­nist Jane E. Brody has writ­ten a sil­ly attack on the doc­u­men­tary What the Health. Germany’s Iron Chan­cel­lor Otto von Bis­mar­ck sup­pos­ed­ly once quipped, “Nev­er believe any­thing in pol­i­tics until it has been offi­cial­ly denied.” Since the New York Times is regard­ed as the “News­pa­per of Record” in the Unit­ed States, we could amend this say­ing to “Nev­er believe any­thing in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics until it has been offi­cial­ly denied in the New York Times.”

Brody focused on one alarm­ing state­ment about the harm­ful effects of eat­ing eggs. She then con­clud­ed that the entire doc­u­men­tary was full of bad sci­ence. Some­how, she failed to men­tion the main mes­sage of the doc­u­men­tary, which is that the major health-focused non­prof­its are tak­ing mon­ey from the food indus­try. Not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, those non­prof­its are sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly fail­ing to warn peo­ple of the health risks posed by the foods that their spon­sors are sell­ing. What the Health even showed that these non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions have some­times been urg­ing peo­ple to eat the very foods that are known to con­tribute to the dis­ease that the non­prof­it is sup­pos­ed­ly try­ing to fight. If the New York Times were real­ly serv­ing as the “watch­dog press,” then it would have been sound­ing sim­i­lar warn­ings for many years. (I sound that warn­ing in my book Where Do Goril­las Get Their Pro­tein? What We Real­ly Know About Diet and Health.) Instead, the pub­lic had to wait for an inde­pen­dent doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er to artic­u­late this mes­sage, and for Net­flix to broad­cast it.

What the Health is report­ing on a sto­ry that the News­pa­per of Record pre­sum­ably finds “not fit to print.” Word about What the Health is spread­ing via social media. Since our News­pa­per of Record can no longer ignore the doc­u­men­tary, it is time for one of its colum­nists to tell us to “move along, there’s noth­ing to see here.” Brody claimed that sev­er­al of her “well-mean­ing, health con­scious young friends” (a descrip­tion that sim­ply drips with con­de­scen­sion) urged her to watch the doc­u­men­tary, but that she had to quit watch­ing it part­way through, sup­pos­ed­ly because the sci­ence report­ing was intol­er­a­bly bad. Yet sev­er­al of the peo­ple inter­viewed in the doc­u­men­tary are promi­nent sci­en­tists, while Brody is just a news­pa­per colum­nist.

The online ver­sion of Brody’s screed was enti­tled “Good Veg­an, Bad Veg­an.” The “bad veg­ans” are pre­sum­ably “those who dis­tort sci­ence.” Yet Brody her­self is guilty of that offense. The research real­ly does show that egg con­sump­tion, like cig­a­rette smok­ing, is cor­re­lat­ed with the buildup of plaque in the arter­ies. If the effect of eat­ing two eggs a day is equiv­a­lent to half of the effect of smok­ing a pack of cig­a­rettes a day, that would work out to a five cig­a­rettes per egg ratio, which is not unre­al­is­tic. The research also shows that eat­ing processed meats real­ly is asso­ci­at­ed with an increased risk of type 2 dia­betes. As a con­sumer of eggs and meat, Brody is pre­sum­ably unhap­py about those find­ings, but her unhap­pi­ness does not make those find­ings untrue.

Although Brody rails against bad sci­ence, she pro­mot­ed some of the worst of it in her col­umn. In par­tic­u­lar, she put forth the long-dis­cred­it­ed myth that plant pro­teins are incom­plete and that veg­ans must there­fore com­bine dif­fer­ent plant pro­teins in the same meal to get a com­plete pro­tein. In real­i­ty, nutri­tion sci­en­tists have known for more than 100 years that any prac­ti­cal plant-based diet would auto­mat­i­cal­ly pro­vide enough pro­tein for a human being, as long as the per­son ate enough food to get enough calo­ries. In the 1950s, William Cum­ming Rose showed that ordi­nary sta­ples, such as rice and pota­toes, pro­vide more than enough of all of the amino acids that are essen­tial in human nutri­tion. There has nev­er been any evi­dence that human beings need to com­bine dif­fer­ent plant-based foods to “com­ple­ment the pro­teins.” If Brody had read even an intro­duc­to­ry-lev­el text­book on nutri­tion, she would know this.

Brody con­cedes that “respon­si­ble, well-informed sources” already rec­om­mend a plant-based diet. Then she assures us, on the basis of no evi­dence what­so­ev­er, that a plant-based diet can be “fleshed out” with low-fat pro­tein sources from ani­mals. In con­trast, one of the major find­ings of the Chi­na-Cor­nell-Oxford project was that even a small amount of ani­mal-source food in the diet was asso­ci­at­ed with an increased risk of death from degen­er­a­tive dis­ease. There did not seem to be any safe lev­el of intake. T. Col­in Camp­bell, who is a nutri­tion­al bio­chemist and a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Brody’s alma mater, Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty, was the lead author of the arti­cle that report­ed that find­ing. Brody has no excuse for being igno­rant of it. If Brody is will­ing to run the increased risk of ear­ly death that results from eat­ing foods from ani­mal sources, that is her choice. But as a jour­nal­ist, Brody has a pro­fes­sion­al and human­i­tar­i­an respon­si­bil­i­ty to tell peo­ple that the risk exists, so that they can make informed deci­sions.

Brody warns, “A veg­an diet laden with refined grains like white rice and bread; juices and sweet­ened drinks; cook­ies, chips and crack­ers; and dairy-free ice cream is hard­ly a health­ful way to eat.” Yet that is a straw-man argu­ment. Nobody inter­viewed in What the Health endors­es junk-food veg­an­ism. On the oth­er hand, Dr. Wal­ter Kemp­n­er of Duke Uni­ver­si­ty dis­cov­ered in the 1930s that he could save the lives of patients with malig­nant hyper­ten­sion by hav­ing them eat a diet of noth­ing but white rice, fruit, and sug­ar. Brody’s audi­ence deserves to know things like that.

Brody’s choice of title is telling. It alludes to Gary Taubes’ book Good Calo­ries, Bad Calo­ries. On July 7, 2002, the New York Times Mag­a­zine launched Gary Taubes’ career as a nutri­tion guru by run­ning his arti­cle “What if it’s all been a big fat lie?” That arti­cle claimed that the low-fat, high-car­bo­hy­drate diet that doc­tors had sup­pos­ed­ly been rec­om­mend­ing was real­ly the cause of our obe­si­ty epi­dem­ic. Like Brody, Taubes has no for­mal train­ing in nutri­tion or dietet­ics or epi­demi­ol­o­gy. Thus, like Brody, Taubes does not even rec­og­nize the mis­takes that he makes in his writ­ings about nutri­tion. Note that Taubes has been round­ly crit­i­cized by nutri­tion sci­en­tists for mis­rep­re­sent­ing their views by mak­ing it seem that they endorsed a low-car­bo­hy­drate diet.

Some of the peo­ple inter­viewed in What the Health are famous sci­en­tists who did land­mark research relat­ed to the effects of dietary choic­es on health. Brody is not a peer of the sci­en­tists inter­viewed in What the Health. Thus, she is not qual­i­fied to serve as a review­er for any of the jour­nals that pub­lished their sci­en­tif­ic work. Yet because of Brody’s plat­form at the New York Times, she has been able to encour­age a broad read­er­ship to “skip” watch­ing a doc­u­men­tary in which these sci­en­tists explain their find­ings to the pub­lic. The peo­ple who take her advice will miss the chance to hear a poten­tial­ly life-sav­ing mes­sage that they will nev­er read in the News­pa­per of Record. For­tu­nate­ly, they may hear about it through social media.

The Inuit (“Eskimo”) Diet Causes Rapid Aging, Early Death

Since the 1970s, there has been a lot of hype about the diet of the Inu­it, who were indige­nous peo­ple in Green­land as well as north­ern Cana­da and Alas­ka.  (The Inu­it were often called Eski­mos, but that name is con­sid­ered offen­sive. The cor­rect name is Inu­it. The sin­gu­lar form of the word is Inuk.) The Inu­it had man­aged to sur­vive in a hos­tile envi­ron­ment: one that was frozen and cov­ered in snow for many months out of the year. As a result, the Inuit’s tra­di­tion­al diet for most of the year con­sist­ed of meat and fish, often eat­en raw. Since the 1970s, many food fad­dists have been claim­ing that the Inuit’s diet some­how mag­i­cal­ly pro­tect­ed the Inu­it against coro­nary artery dis­ease. The goal of this pro­pa­gan­da is to encour­age peo­ple to eat meat and fish and to take fish oil cap­sules but to shun car­bo­hy­drates. Yet even the ear­li­est out­side observers of the Inu­it noticed some­thing odd about them. The young Inu­it seemed hale and hearty, but the Inu­it seemed to age quick­ly, and there were prac­ti­cal­ly no Inu­it old­er than 60 years. Stud­ies of mum­mi­fied and skele­tal remains of Inu­it who had died before the arrival of the Euro­peans con­firmed that the tra­di­tion­al Inu­it diet caused ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis and osteo­poro­sis.

The Inu­it have always had a remark­ably short life expectan­cy because they were at risk for both of the major cat­e­gories of caus­es of death: dis­eases of pover­ty and dis­eases of afflu­ence. The dis­eases of pover­ty are the things that tend to afflict the poor: star­va­tion, expo­sure, acci­dents, and gen­er­al lack of med­ical care and social sup­ports. The dis­eases of afflu­ence are the things that tend to afflict the rich: main­ly a diet that is high in fats and cho­les­terol. In trop­i­cal and tem­per­ate regions, only the rich could afford to eat meat and oth­er ani­mal-source foods on a reg­u­lar basis. But in the Arc­tic, meat was the only avail­able food for much of the year. Thus, the Inu­it were poor peo­ple eat­ing a rich diet. As a result, they aged rapid­ly and died young.

The Inuit’s tra­di­tion­al diet of fat­ty meats and fish can sus­tain a young per­son. Oth­er­wise, the Inu­it would not have suc­ceed­ed in set­tling in the Arc­tic region. How­ev­er, the Inu­it diet is bad for your health in the long run, for sev­er­al rea­sons:

  • Peo­ple can catch par­a­sitic dis­eases by eat­ing raw meat. (More than 12% of elder­ly Inu­it in Green­land had trichi­nosis).
  • The high fat and cho­les­terol con­tent of the Inu­it diet leads to clog­ging of the arter­ies.
  • A high-pro­tein diet increas­es the risk for liv­er and kid­ney dis­ease, as well as osteo­poro­sis.
  • Ani­mal-source food con­tains a con­cen­trat­ed dose of pol­lu­tants from the envi­ron­ment.

Advo­cates of a keto­genic diet often use the Inu­it diet as a mod­el. The goal of a keto­genic diet is to put some­one into a state of keto­sis. Keto­sis means that the per­son has an abnor­mal­ly large amount of keto acids in the blood. This con­di­tion nor­mal­ly hap­pens dur­ing fast­ing or when the per­son is eat­ing no car­bo­hy­drates. It can also result from insulin defi­cien­cy. Since the Inu­it were eat­ing prac­ti­cal­ly no plant mate­r­i­al for months at a time, many peo­ple assume that the Inu­it would have been in a state of keto­sis most of the time. Yet a study done in the 1920s showed that Inu­it who were eat­ing their tra­di­tion­al diet did not have keto­sis unless they are fast­ing. By the 1980s, the expla­na­tion was clear: the Inu­it were eat­ing far more car­bo­hy­drate than you might expect. The Inu­it were eat­ing a lot of raw meat that was fresh-killed or had been frozen imme­di­ate­ly after being killed. For this rea­son, the meat that the Inu­it were eat­ing con­tained far more glyco­gen (ani­mal starch) than you would find in meat that you buy at a butcher’s shop or gro­cery store. Also, the Inu­it had a way of pre­serv­ing a whole seal or bird car­cass under an intact whole skin with a thick lay­er of blub­ber. This method of preser­va­tion allowed some of the pro­tein in the meat to fer­ment into car­bo­hy­drate.

Back in the 1970s, some sci­en­tists from Den­mark wrote some arti­cles that claimed that the Inu­it of Green­land were being pro­tect­ed from coro­nary artery dis­ease by the large amounts of omega-3 fat­ty acids in their diet. In real­i­ty, the Inu­it have a high risk of coro­nary artery dis­ease. The ear­li­er research sim­ply under­es­ti­mat­ed the num­ber of fatal heart attacks because the caus­es of deaths among the Inu­it pop­u­la­tions were not being accu­rate­ly record­ed. In the 1970s, the Inu­it in Green­land sel­dom got med­ical atten­tion while they were alive, and they sel­dom under­went autop­sy after their death. So the true cause of death was sel­dom record­ed.

The Inuit’s diet is a mod­el for how Stone Age peo­ple can sur­vive in the Arc­tic. It is not a mod­el for how to live a long and healthy life when you have many food choic­es. The pop­u­la­tions that live the longest, health­i­est lives are those who have access to mod­ern med­ical care but eat a diet sim­i­lar to that of peas­ants in the tem­per­ate and trop­i­cal regions: a prac­ti­cal­ly veg­an diet based main­ly on starch­es and veg­eta­bles.

Pho­to by Inter­net Archive Book Images

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Come From Green Plants

The food indus­try has been urg­ing me to eat fish. The sup­ple­ment com­pa­nies have been urg­ing me to take fish oil sup­ple­ments. They claim that omega-3 fat­ty acids pre­vent heart attacks. Some peo­ple even claim that a baby can­not devel­op a nor­mal brain unless its moth­er ate fish or took fish oil sup­ple­ments. In con­trast, nutri­tion sci­en­tists tell me that green plants are an excel­lent source of the only omega-3 fat­ty acid that is essen­tial in human nutri­tion. This could explain why pop­u­la­tions that rarely if ever eat fish can have healthy hearts and healthy brains. In fact, the health­i­est pop­u­la­tions are the ones that eat very lit­tle fat of any kind and lots of veg­eta­bles.

All of the omega-3 fat­ty acids in the food sup­ply came orig­i­nal­ly from the green plants and blue-green algae (cyanobac­te­ria) that are at the bot­tom of the food chain. An omega-3 fat­ty acid called alpha-linolenic acid is an impor­tant part of the thy­lakoid mem­branes that are involved in pho­to­syn­the­sis. No ani­mal can make an omega-3 fat­ty acid. Ani­mals do not have the enzymes that would be need­ed to put a dou­ble-bond in the omega-3 posi­tion in the hydro­car­bon chain of a fat­ty acid. How­ev­er, ani­mals can length­en the car­bon chain of an omega-3 fat­ty acid. Thus, fish and oth­er ani­mals (includ­ing human beings) can con­vert alpha-linolenic acid to longer-chain omega-3 fat­ty acids, such as eicos­apen­taenoic acid (EPA) and docosa­hexaenoic acid (DHA). For this rea­son, you can find EPA and DHA in fish but not in ordi­nary plant-source foods.

Accord­ing to the Food and Nutri­tion Board of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences, there is only one omega-3 fat­ty acid that is essen­tial in human nutri­tion. It is the alpha-linolenic acid that is found in thy­lakoid mem­branes of the chloro­plas­ts of green plants. For this rea­son, you can get this omega-3 fat­ty acid from eat­ing green veg­eta­bles. Flaxseeds, hempseed, and wal­nuts are also good sources of alpha-linolenic acid.

You need only a lit­tle bit of alpha-linolenic acid from your food. The dietary require­ment for the two essen­tial fat­ty acids (alpha-linolenic acid and an omega 6 fat­ty acid called linole­ic acid) was dis­cov­ered only after hos­pi­tal­ized patients start­ed being fed fat-free solu­tions for an extend­ed peri­od. Yet even their need for these essen­tial fat­ty acids could be met by rub­bing a lit­tle bit of veg­etable oil on the skin.

For years, many peo­ple have been urg­ing the pub­lic to eat fish or take fish oil sup­ple­ments, to reduce the risk of heart attack. Pop­u­la­tions that eat a lot of omega-3 acids, from cold-water fish, do have a some­what low­er-than-expect­ed rate of fatal heart attacks. How­ev­er, this is prob­a­bly because of the blood-thin­ning effects of omega-3 fat­ty acids, which could also lead to more deaths from major bleed­ing. If you real­ly want to make your­self heart-attack-proof, eat a low-fat, plant-based diet to keep your total cho­les­terol below 150 mg/dL.

Some man­u­fac­tur­ers of baby for­mu­la have been adding DHA so that the for­mu­la will have a DHA con­tent sim­i­lar to that of breast milk. Yet whether the addi­tion­al DHA pro­vides real ben­e­fits to the baby is still unclear. How­ev­er, these stud­ies do raise con­cerns about giv­ing too much long-chain omega-3 fat­ty acid with­out also pro­vid­ing a sup­ple­ment of arachi­don­ic acid.

I do not know whether any veg­ans (such as preg­nant women or the elder­ly) would ben­e­fit from sup­ple­men­ta­tion with the longer-chain omega-3 fat­ty acids. If these sup­ple­ments are ben­e­fi­cial, it would be best for them to come from a plant source. Plants are less like­ly to be con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed by the pol­lu­tants that build up in ani­mal tis­sue.

Pho­to by albert­straub